Safety – The Last Pillar of 6S

Everyone knows how useful 5S is and how it transforms a messy workplace into something tidier and more productive. However, let’s remind ourselves of what goes into a well-rounded 5S program that is there to stay, rather than one that fizzles out and disappears.

  1. Sort/Seri is the first step in a workplace transformation which aims to sort out frequently used and unused equipment.
  2. Set in Order/Seiton aims to organize and place the more frequently used items within reach to maximize productivity. It also works to store or eliminate unused items.
  3. Shine/Seiso, a deep clean, comes next. This step also works to identify equipment that needs maintenance.
  4. Standardize/Setsiku is fourth in the lineup to make sure everything is routinely kept up. This includes periodic sorting, organizing, and cleaning.
  5. Sustain/Shitsuke is the last step in 5S that is the make it or break it factor of this lean manufacturing method. The culture of the workplace needs to be adjusted in this step to be able to keep up the previous four habits. If everyone is not participating, it renders the whole operation useless.

After completing and keeping up with those five building blocks of 5S, there is one more that is optional to include and that is Safety! Specifically adding safety as its own category to a 5S workplace transforms the 5S method to what’s known as 6S. This addition is a common strategy for managing improvements and prioritizing employee safety in all sorts of businesses and industry. With its constant presence in the list of 6S pillars, it is sure to remind employees to practice this important step. However, safety is not to be mistaken for the very last step. In fact, safety should be integrated into every step of the lean manufacturing technique if the company chooses to transform their 5S system into a 6S system.

As was mentioned earlier, this is an optional addition to any 5S program. Some have argued that adding the sixth “S” is a little redundant because employees and their employers should be practicing safety strategies already with the regulations and standards put in place by OSHA and other standard setting organizations. Others have noted that without the addition of safety as its own category, the company may over-look that aspect if it doesn’t visibly eliminate any of the eight wastes of Lean. In either case, it doesn’t hurt to be explicit in how things are done in the workplace when concerning the well-being of employees.

With that being said, safety comes in all shapes and sizes, from organizational tools, to floor marking, signage, labels, and also never forget those regular safety audits and risk assessments. The embodiment of safety boils down to clear communication (and in some cases over communication) and with all these tools available, a company can knock out the eight wastes of Lean while also staying as safe as they can.

Additional Resources