When Henry Ford was asked what he would do if he had to take charge of a business that failed, he replied "No business I know of ever went to the wall without first accumulating a vast pile of dirt. The dirt, and all that goes with it, untidy thinking and methods, helped to cause that failure. The first thing I would do would be to clean that business up.”

He meant not only the way a physical plant should be run, but also the way "untidy thinking" impacts efficiency and end results.

Ford systematized his thinking in a five-fold principle abbreviated CANDO:

  • Cleaning up
  • Arranging
  • Neatness
  • Discipline
  • Ongoing improvement

Representatives from Toyota visiting America in 1950 adopted Ford's ideas. Translating the five items in CANDO into Japanese terms each starting with the letter S gave what we know today as the 5S.

(Learn more in 5 Things to Consider When Implementing 5S to Improve Safety and Quality.)

Lately, there are references to 5S+, which add Safety or Spirit to the list. But the underlying features of the 5S system remain order, organization, and discipline.

The following table summarizes the system well.

Japanese Term

English Equivalent

Meaning in Japanese Context

Seiri

Tidiness

Throw away all rubbish and unrelated materials in the workplace

Seiton

Orderliness

Set everything in proper place for quick retrieval and storage

Seiso

Cleanliness

Clean the workplace; everyone should be a janitor

Seiketsu

Standardization

Standardize the way of maintaining cleanliness

Shitsuke

Discipline

Practice 'Five S' daily - make it a way of life; this also means 'commitment'


These days, the 5 items in 5S are often given equivalent English S-words, as shown in this graphic.

Source: Toyota Material Handling Ohio

The Fifth S - Sustaining Safety Culture

The fifth S is Shitsuke, or Discipline.

It denotes a "commitment to maintain orderliness and to practice the first 4 S as a way of life." And once it's achieved, "personnel voluntarily observe cleanliness and orderliness at all times, without having to be reminded by management."

That is safety culture in a nutshell. It is a set of shared attitudes, values, and goals that characterizes an institution.

(Find out How to Build a Sustainable Safety Culture.)

Where Does Safety Belong in 5S?

The fifth S denotes safety culture, but what about workplace safety itself?

There are two schools of thought here.

Traditionally, safety has just been understood as an integrated fact in the 5S system. If applied successfully, the 5S system would promote safety and make safety part of the everyday work culture.

Safety is seen in the overall attention to risk, risk control, and risk reduction in 5S. Achieving the goal of achieving order, cleanliness, and standardization means achieving a safer workplace.

The second school of thought adds safety as the sixth S. Adding this explicit safety component recognizes the many elements of a safety management system, such as:

  • Training
  • Education
  • Hazard and risk analysis
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Legislation, regulation, standards, guidelines, and codes

There's no need to take a strong stance on this matter, since both schools of thought are committed to upholding safety, whether it stands as its own S or not.

Consider, for example, how heavily the 5S system relies on visual cues to ensure conformity in the workplace and how much it focuses on immediately correcting issues.

(Learn more in Implementing 5S+1 to Make Workplace Hazards Easier to See.)

It's that kind of concern with labeling and standardization that gives things like the WHMIS system for labeling and storing hazardous materials, or pipe marking, labeling, color coding, and direction of flow. All of these act as visual forms of hazard control, which shows how standardization and visual reminders are an integral part of workplace safety.

Final Thoughts

Do you need to implement a 5S (or 5S+, 6S, 7S) system? Yes, absolutely. If you're a safety professional or practitioner working in industry today, you already have. It is impossible for a company to compete, make a profit, or even survive without this system, or one very much like it, in place.

The advantage of following 5S directly is that you can enhance what you're already doing by making sure it lines up with an identified practice like this. This is especially so when you consider that 5S doesn't just address order but also addresses mindset, attitude, and aptitude. And when you make a positive change to those, you strengthen safety culture.