Most likely, you’ve heard of 5S. If so, you are aware that it is a technique for setting up a workspace to boost productivity and efficiency while minimising waste. It’s also one of the initial measures that many businesses take in their quest to become “lean.” If you didn’t already know that, you do now. In addition to helping a company become leaner, 5S can enhance workplace health and safety. Below, we’ll learn more about the 5S and/or 6S and how to apply them to make a workplace that is more orderly, effective, productive, and secure.

What is the 5S Programme?

To give you a general idea of what 5S is, here are a few definitions. It is a cyclical methodology that stands for Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain. It is a lean thinking method used to achieve continuous improvement. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines 5S as “a methodology that results in a workplace that is clean, uncluttered, safe, and well organised to help reduce waste and optimise productivity”[i]. 5S is a system that emanates from Japanese industries and culture consisting of five concepts Seiri (sorting), Seiton (organising), Seiso (cleaning, shining), Seiketsu (sanitising, standardising) and Shitsuke (sustaining)[ii].

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Examining the 5S in More Detail

What Constitutes a 5S? The 5S method consists of five steps or phases, each of which starts with the letter S, as you probably have guessed. Each “S” in 5S is the first letter of a Japanese word because it was invented in Japan. To the delight of English speakers, each of those Japanese terms has been translated into an English word that likewise starts with the letter “S”.

  1. Sort (Seiri): When you sort, you take away anything from the workspace that is no longer required for the present stage of production. This could imply that you place them somewhere for long-term storage or even that you discard them.
  2. Straighten (Seiton): Another name for putting everything in order. After the extra objects have been cleared out, arrange the remaining goods in the most advantageous arrangement. Put items in their proper places to make them accessible when needed and to aid with waste reduction and efficiency.
  3. Shine (Seiso): Another name for sanitising or sweeping. Clean up the workspace once all necessary items have been rearranged and superfluous items have been removed. Don’t do this just once. Instead, create a cleaning schedule for each day. Daily cleaning has the advantage of allowing you to check the workspace and equipment for wear and damage.
  4. Standardise (Seiketsu): After you’ve sorted, straightened, and shone, it’s time to standardise (Seiketsu). This entails determining best practices to maintain the status quo and developing standardised procedures to ensure that tasks are completed effectively. Sort, straighten, and polish should be included in people’s job descriptions in order to ensure consistency.
  5. Sustain (Shitsuke): The fifth and last component of 5S is to maintain the practice. To maintain the 5S technique and practices current and prevent things from getting out of hand once more, use signs, posters, meetings, and other forms of communication. If you don’t keep the 5S message fresh in their thoughts, individuals may have a tendency to revert to the old practices. Keep in mind that changing a company’s culture is not simple.

Adding Safety to 5S: Even if 5S has “built-in” safety advantages, the narrative is far from over. Including safety in 5S can be as easy as remembering to prioritise safety during each 5S phase. Over time, a new “S” has been added to the 5S system to generate 6S systems. The 6S methodology is a result of the addition of Safety to the 5S methodology. This is also known as lean 6S safety, lean 6S, 6S, or 5S+.

Examples of the 6thS Relevant to EHS

The word “safety” can also refer to a distinct phase that comes after “sort,” “straighten,” and “shine,” but before “standardise,” and “sustain.” When straightening, you can arrange things not only to maximise productivity but also with a focus on safety. Don’t just put measures in place to increase worker productivity. For instance, you can also think about safety/EHS issues like worker strain due to ergonomics. So, perform a separate round of safety inspections after sorting, straightening, and shining. Additionally, you can include EHS considerations in a cleaning checklist for employees to complete during the Shine phase.  Practically, you can ensure that toxic canisters are closed when cleaning and organising. Next, select Standardise and Sustain. Basically, it’s a good idea to include safety in each of the five Ss.

EHS is Still Beyond 5S for Big Conglomerates & Medium Scale Industries

It’s great to have safety when implementing the 5S programme but occupational health safety and environment is still a big area that needs specialised efforts as well in medium-sized and big companies. Therefore we also recommend you to take the following Exoexcellence Consultants’ courses on EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) on Alison for free if you want to specialise in EHS as well along with just 5S and safety:

S5 and S6 make sense. There will be fewer risks in an organised, tidy workplace and better housekeeping will result in fewer tripping hazards. If the workspace has been set up with better tool and machine placement, your employees will face fewer ergonomic risks.


[ii] 5S in the Japanese workplace – seiketsu: sanitizing and standardizing (part 4 of 5) – Japan Intercultural Consulting

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