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What Does 5S Mean?

5S is a Japanese workplace organization methodology that is designed to enhance workplace productivity without sacrificing workplace quality. The core goal of the methodology is to create a workplace that is clean, uncluttered, safe, and well-organized.

The 5S methodology’s emphasis on safety makes it a common choice for workplaces that are both safety-sensitive and need to maintain a high productivity workflow to remain viable.

Safeopedia Explains 5S

The methodology is referred to as “5S” due to the five Japanese words that form its core principles:

  • Seirei (sort): All necessary items are to be organized when not in use, and all unnecessary items to be removed.
  • Seiton (set in order): Ensuring that all equipment is placed in optimal locations with the goal of optimizing the accessibility of necessary items while removing obstacles that could pose safety hazards.
  • Seiso (shine): Workers must clean their equipment and workplace at regular intervals, such as at the end of each shift.
  • Seiketsu (standardize): Making sure that all workplace methodologies are adopted in a standardized manner. For instance, equipment organization schemes should be identical for all employees.
  • Shitsuke (sustain, or self-discipline): Ensuring that all of the 5S principles are practiced continuously, as an ongoing process.

Safety-focused organizations that recommend the use of 5S management methods include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Hong Kong Organizational Safety and Health Council. The use of 5S processes may also be used by workplaces that are required to conform with ISO 45001, a voluntary health and safety standard that is used internationally and is chiefly focused on hazard identification and remediation.

5S and Visual Management

The primary focus of 5S is streamlining workspace design and work area layout in order to ensure the workspace itself is conducive to a productive workflow. A key aspect of this is communicating 5S practices visually, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “visual control” or “visual management.”

Visual management involves clearly communicating the proper organization and layout of equipment via signage, color-coding, or other visual signifiers. From a safety perspective, it is also vital to ensure that the workplace is organized and uncluttered so that hazards and other issues can be spotted and addressed immediately.

5S and the Toyota Production System

The 5S method was developed by Hiroyuki Hirano, a management consultant, and was later adopted as a key component of the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS is a manufacturing production process that was developed by the Japanese automaker to enhance its productivity, as Japan’s small size and geographic isolation made traditional Western manufacturing processes unsuitable. It has since become one of the world’s most influential workplace management systems.

5S is a key component of lean workplace management systems. Lean is an adapted form of the Toyota Production System that is designed to be useful in a variety of workplace settings, including non-manufacturing settings. In fact, “5S” is so strongly associated with lean methods that the term is sometimes referred to as either “5S Lean” or “Lean 5S.”

5S+1 or the Sixth S

5S is sometimes extended into “6S” or “5S + 1.” In either case, the additional S stands for “safety.”

Because the 5S system is already designed to improve safety by itself, a 6S approach is typically used in instances where an employer or management consultant feels that a more explicit emphasis on safety would be helpful to workplace performance.

As many employers view safety precautions as negative costs that can potentially reduce efficiency, 6S may also be used to reinforce the idea that strong safety practices will actually enhance workplace productivity, and are therefore cost-positive.

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