5S Workplace Safety: Safety Topics - January 2019 - Week 2


Continuing with our “fresh start” approach to a New Year, January presents an opportunity to hit the reset button on workplace organization and cleanliness.  It’s well documented that a Lean Manufacturing approach cannot even begin to function properly unless 5S is implemented.  5S began as part of the Toyota Production System, which later became the foundation for many lean manufacturing tools and methods.  Sometimes we tend to relate 5S to workplace processes and cleanliness but this week we will take a quick look at how each element of 5S has a relationship to workplace safety.

Monday, January 7


The first step is to Sort the workplace for unnecessary clutter such as tools, machinery, materials, furniture, and inventory that is no longer being used or has little significance in the core activities of the business.  The hazards caused by storing unnecessary things in the workplace can have a domino effect on housekeeping (Sweep) which can hide hazards from plain view.  Usually the reason things such as equipment or supplies go dormant on the shop floor is due to changing needs of the workplace. Production needs change. Some things are replaced but other old things are hoarded in a mentality that “we might use it someday.” These things can create clutter or prevent the effective storage and organization of things that are used more frequently.  One of the more common hazards associated with clutter are trips and falls.  Ask yourselves a few simple questions as you walk the shop floor to Sort:

  • What is the purpose of this item?
  • When was it last used?
  • How frequently is it used?
  • Is this location the ideal place for it?

A good practice is to take some time to really look into the recesses and dark corners of the shop floor and see what’s there.  If you can’t make a decision on it right away, place a brightly colored ‘red tag’ identifier on it, with a date to indicate when it should be evaluated for disposition.  Make a list of these items and share them with your teams to discuss what should be done with it. Sort it out!

Tuesday, January 8

Set in Order

Once the clutter is gone, we can begin to think more about organization and workplace layout.  This is the process of streamlining storage and workplace materials in a manner that not only reduces wasted time and motion, but can have an impact on ergonomics.  The basic principle of the Set in Order step is to organize the workplace from the inside-out; meaning that the more frequently tools and materials are used, the closer they should be to the where the operator performs their primary function.  For example, if an operator uses something daily, it should remain at the workstation.  If it’s used weekly, perhaps it can be stored a little further away, but within view.  If it’s used monthly or less frequently, it should have a designated location that is labeled and retrieved as needed.  The ergonomic benefits of reducing wasted motion in the workplace are significant.  Reaching, bending, and twisting can all be reduced by laying out the most used items within an ideal position for the operator.  Another thing to consider while organizing the workplace is to reduce blind spots and obstructed views of walkways, corners and fork truck routes.

Some things to think about while defining your Set In Order step:

  • Who uses the items and which are used most frequently?
  • Can items be grouped by category or type?
  • What is most logical place for the item, equipment or even operator position?
  • Is there anything in close proximity to the operator that won’t be used today? Tomorrow? Next week?

The Set in Order step usually involves the most creativity and can be the most fun for your workforce.  Get them involved in the decision making and let them determine what works best for them.

Wednesday, January 9

Sweep (Shine)

Everyone thinks they know what housekeeping is, however it’s also one of the easiest steps to overlook and usually one of the first steps to be ignored when work gets busy.  This is oddly unfortunate because of all the steps in 5S, when practiced daily, the Sweep step takes very little time.  The biggest obstacle to the Sweep step is discipline and good habits. Poor housekeeping can also carry the most risk associated with it.  Good Housekeeping is a fundamental in workplace safety.  Think about any type of injury: lacerations, trips and falls, sprains and strains, contusions and so on.  Each one of them has the potential to have poor housekeeping as a root cause.  Furthermore in a true 5S environment when Sweep/Shine is properly executed it goes beyond just sweeping the floor, putting tools away and keeping egress routes clear.  Sweep/Shine can include basic operator PM (preventative maintenance) activities such as changing a filter, wiping dust off the top of equipment, fluid level checks, and even machine guarding validation.

Sweep/Shine is not the most creative or fun step with 5S but it carries a lot of weight in supporting the other functions.  It’s a step of taking ownership for your work space and treating as if it were your own business.  Clean areas and equipment makes hazards much more apparent so that they can be proactively addressed.  Cleaning supplies should be abundant and organized.  A place for everything and everything in its place.  Designate and label areas for cleaning supplies.  Finally, it’s mostly about attitude. Don’t just report a spill to the janitorial staff, take the time to own that hazard and clean it up before someone gets hurt. 

Here some things to consider to determine if your workplace is shined and swept:

  • If a customer walked in right now and saw my area, what would their impression of our product be?
  • If my family were secretly watching me work, what would they think of what I do?

Do I have the resources to maintain my area? Including time…and if not what are the next steps?

Thursday, January 10


It’s been a long road so far, and many organizations that try to establish 5S struggle with those first 3 steps as they are the most difficult.  They’re often labor intensive, can create work disruptions, place a strain on resources and so on; but we can consider those first three steps as the growing pains.  The reward should be right in front of you now. The workplace should be organized, clean, efficient and visually free of hazards.  However, complacency can be the enemy of progress and continuous improvement so we need a step to help establish a system for what we have accomplished.

Standardize has a people-focused element to it as opposed to the workplace environment emphasis with the other three steps.  This step is the process of establishing the system that defines how the other steps are managed on a routine basis.  One of the best benefits of Standardizing the Sort, Set and Shine steps is that it helps create good habits.  Like most safety systems, some level of standard operating procedures should be established to define the activities, responsibilities and timelines that create and maintain our clean, efficient workplace.

A lot of the ‘visual work place’ tools are often associated with the Standardize step such as having places for things identified and labeled, checklists made, schedules and instructions that are posted are part of the standardized process.  Every tool, document and material used in the workplace should have a designated place.  Color coding is an effective tool that can be used to group things into department, WIP and priority as well.  These things should be defined and the workforce trained on a regular basis on the organization’s approach to 5S.

Furthermore, teams can be established to perform regular audits to make sure that what has taken place so far is continuing to stay in place and not regress.  Safety audits that include 5S elements are a good way to create visibility to the daily tasks and activities of the colleagues that are so critical to the work environment we have created. The Standardize step establishes the places, disciplines, routines and schedules in which the first 3 steps are defined, evaluated and repeated as necessary. 

Friday, January 11


Sustain is the check and balance to make sure that your standardization, operating procedures and tools keep 5S up to date with an evolving work environment. Periodic review of your systems and activities that create your 5S environment are required to make sure they are not compromised by changing business demands.  Training for new employees on the procedures and methodology is an important part of sustaining the good habits of the general workforce and not allowing them to ‘creep’ away.  5S is not a short term project and it requires commitment from everyone; from the leaders to the shop floor.  5S should become a way of life and just as much a part of what a company does as what they do for customers.  Sustain is important for colleagues to do for themselves so that they can continue to provide a safe and efficient work environment. In turn, this helps sustain customer relationships by keeping costs down through incident prevention and waste reduction.  Sustain is the process of integrating 5S into the workplace culture so that it becomes a belief system.  Sustain can also mean keeping things interesting and the process of generating new ideas for continuous improvement.  If there are opportunities to learn best practices from other facilities or business partners, engaging in those can be helpful in keeping things fresh on the shop floor and reduce any tendencies for regression.

Bonus: the 6th ‘S’

Although much of what takes place in the common 5S approach does have a relationship to Safety, some companies choose to include Safety it on its own.  Much like ‘Set’, the focus is on reducing risks through workplace arrangement and reducing ergonomic concerns.  Perhaps an Ergonomic team could be put in place to study the core activities of the group and look for opportunities to guide continuous improvement in those areas. Having a 6-S program would look specifically at hazards and how to apply the 5S principles to reducing them.  However, some will argue that when 5S is properly executed and safety is considered during those steps, another ‘S’ isn’t necessary.  But either way, Safety should be a consideration in any 5S philosophy and integrated into all considerations when making the workplace leaner and cleaner.

Tags: safety culture , safety topics , behavior based safety , BBS ,

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