Imagine you’re swimming in a large pond in Louisiana. That's right, you're in alligator territory. But it’s not the alligators on the surface you need to worry about – you can see those. It’s the ones under the water that concern you.

And that, my friend, is the entire point of 5S+1 (or 6S). It makes hazards, danger, and problems easy to see. It surfaces the proverbial alligators in your environment.

Clutter hides hazards, and a lack of structure allows danger to blend in and go unnoticed. Employees may not notice a slip/trip hazard, an exposed wire on an electrical cord, and many other dangers that lurk out of sight. Like that sneaky Louisiana alligator, they’re there but we just don’t see them.

(For related reading, see Jobsite Housekeeping 101.)

Implementing 6S will surface many of the hazards in your work environment. The entire purpose of 6S is to make abnormalities stand out. You want problems at work to get your attention without any effort from you.

5S+1 Is Simple and Powerful

There is genius in simplicity, and 6S follows a simple step-by-step approach to improve any work environment and make it nicer to work in. I have seen 6S implemented in:

  • Hospitals
  • Factories
  • Restaurants
  • Dairy Farms
  • Auto Shops
  • Dental Practices

5S+1 and safety go hand in hand. Often referred to as simply “6S,” each S stands for a different step in a process that will help you remove clutter, improve workflow, and create a platform for continuous improvement.

Safety is a guiding factor with each step:

  1. Safety: We use a safety mindset as we implement each step of this process.
  2. Sort: Sort out and remove items that are not needed. That does not mean throw things away (although you most likely will throw some things out). Remove clutter.
  3. Shine: Now that those unnecessary items are gone, clean the work area and make it like new. Dirt and grime hide hazards and problems. You can’t notice something is getting dirty if it is already dirty and just getting dirtier.
  4. Set: Place items in locations that improve workflow. Create mini-systems by placing items together in categories: lubricants, cleaning supplies, tools, etc. Place Items used daily close to the point of use.
  5. Standardize: Similarly, standardize each work area. You are creating patterns that will direct behavior and make abnormalities stand out. (We notice a broken pattern.)
  6. Sustain: We need a system in place to maintain our new 6S work area. It would be a shame to slide back to the original state. A simple checklist is all that's needed.

Our brain is a pattern-seeking machine, and it notices when a pattern is broken. By organizing the work environment with strong visual patterns and removing clutter, we make abnormalities stand out. We don’t have to look for them; they will jump out at us. Raise your standard by creating a clean, organized, clutter-free work area.

(Learn How to Use Standard Work Instructions to Improve Workplace Safety.)

6S Check Sheet

Implement a simple daily checklist that employees can use at the end of each day to verify that the 6S process has been followed and that everything is looking good. We want workers to leave the work area in good shape and ready for them when they come in for their next shift.

This check sheet is very powerful and versatile as you can change listed items as needed. The checklist should only take a few minutes to review.

Example of listed items:

  • All tools are put away
  • The trash is emptied
  • Workbenches, tables, surfaces are cleaned off
  • Floor is swept and any slip, trip hazards have been removed
  • Doors and electrical cabinets are not blocked
  • Lighting is good

Emphasize safety. This checklist verifies you’re doing regular safety inspections.

Start now. Put your first checklist together and begin using it immediately. Improve the checklist as you improve your 6S.

Foundation for safety

6S creates a foundation for safety. It gives your work environment baseline stability on which you can build. Without this stability, it will be hard to maintain any safety improvements in the workplace.

Is It hard to see hazards in your workplace due to clutter and a lack of organization? 6S may be the perfect solution.