Written by Ben Salder

“Surely safety is the number one priority so we need to make it explicit!” This was the first of many conversations I’ve had over recent months that put the case forward that we should be referring to 6S as opposed to 5S (where the additional “S” is Safety) when talking about Workplace Organisation.

So what is 5S?

First things first, let’s remind ourselves of what 5S is, its purpose and its values. 5S is quite simply a proven process for organising the workplace. It is achieved through the participation of the team and therefore results in increased ownership and self-discipline in order to;

  • Improve safety.
  • Remove waste from the workplace – Be able to find anything within 30 seconds.
  • Provide an environment where continuous improvement is embraced.
  • Improve quality.
  • Identify abnormalities immediately (deviation from standard)

Each of the “S”s is an ordered step based on the approach first introduced by Toyota into automotive manufacture but since replicated in a large number and variety of environments. 5S (and even 6S) are regularly badged as housekeeping but this belittles the mind-set that an organisation which has truly managed to embed and ultimately lives 5S.

So what are the traditional 5 “S”s and what are they really trying to accomplish?

Step 1 – Seiri, or in English; Sort.

The first thing to do is to give the area a really deep clean. As the team is doing this cleaning get rid of anything that is broken, damaged or just no longer required. The key to this is to involve everyone and be honest; remember Lean is all about Just in Time not Just in Case!!! At the completion of this phase the workplace will be considerably cleaner and free from clutter whilst making things easier for anyone to find.

Step 2 – Seiton, or in English; Stabilise, Straighten, Simplify or Set in order

At this point, the team will arrange all the necessary items for economy of movement according to frequency of use; frequently used items should be stored at the work area while infrequently used items stored away from the work area. There will be a designated place for everything, with heavy items being stored lower down and lighter items being stored higher, safety will also be improved. Use the mantra, “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

Step 3 – Seiso, or in English; Shine, Sweep or Scrub

Now is the time to identify cleaning zones and ownership for these zones within the team. Each team member should take responsibility for their zone and keep this zone clean & tidy on a continual basis.   The team will also start to identify and eliminate the causes of contamination and dirt to make keeping the area easier to keep clean on an ongoing basis.

Step 4 – Seiketsu, or in English; Standardise

This is where the previous 3 steps start to become habitual through visual controls. Setting and controlling standards maintain the workplace maintained at a level, which uncovers and makes problems obvious. This in turn both ensures that deterioration against the standard does not occur and also drives continuous improvement due to continuous assessment and generation of actions. These standards and process confirmation obviously need to include routine health and safety throughout.

Step 5 – Shitsuke, or in English; Sustain

This is probably the most difficult of the 5S’s but also ironically the one which Toyota do not refer to because sustaining what you do is a given! This is where true process confirmation at the workplace through go-look-see (rather than verbal confirmation in a meeting room) becomes key to success and the difference between the leadership behaviours of a truly lean organisation and one which isn’t becomes most obvious. Without this step the other steps will fail!

The difference between 5S and 6S.

The sixth “S” within 6S comes at the end and is Safety where all aspects of an initiative are considered with a safety lens. The perceived benefits of 6S is that it makes Safety an explicit focal point or conversation topic which can be used to reinforce the required safety behaviours.

In reality, the leadership behaviours are key whether implementing 5S or 6S; talking about each of the “S”s will not change the behaviour within the organisation. An organisation which has successfully implemented a 5S culture will be a mature safety organisation which considers safety within every decision and every discussion without the need for an explicit safety “S”.

What problem are we trying to fix?

A tidy work place is just one aspect of 5/6S.

As opposed to saying that the answer is 6S over 5S, we should be asking, “what problem are we trying to fix?” In order to increase the safety performance of an organisation, the implementation of 5S should be seen as one of a small number of key activities, which would also include true Visual Management through the five world class Key Performance Indicators of Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery & People (SQCDP) and the embedding of a problem solving culture.

5S is a process aimed at improving a number of facets of the business, safety being a key one of them. Visual Management through SQCDP is a management system aimed at making the current status immediately obvious and then driving a behaviour that problem solves these abnormalities back to the standard or embeds improvements as the new standard across Safety, Quality, Cost Delivery and People key performance areas.

The keys to success are the leadership behaviours. Organisations, which are truly World Class in safety demonstrate certain key tangible behaviours;

  • Go-Look-See; decisions will be made at the workplace involving the right people, not necessarily the most senior people. Leaders will continually process confirm their workplace by spending time with their team, confirming their understanding of their role and coaching to ensure standards are maintained and improvements are identified.
  • Stop-Call-Wait; when an issue is found, the team member has the authority and autonomy to stop the process, call for help and wait for that help to arrive. Unsurprisingly, the support (including the leaders) will then go to the place where the issue is identified (Go-Look-See) and make any decisions involving the right people.
  • Managers coach, don’t fix; The leader is seen as a coach, not just when a problem arises but when using process confirmation to identify good behaviours and potential process improvements. They grasp the opportunity to coach their team rather than provide the answers; this in turn engages the team and enthuses them to identify and resolve issues before they occur rather than reactively.
  • Lead by Example; the role of all members of the team, but most particularly the leadership, is to not just adhere to the standard but to challenge others when they do not adhere, recognise others when they demonstrate good behaviours and behave in a way that acts as a role model. As a leader, the highest standard you can expect anyone to follow is the lowest standard you demonstrate.

It is key for the leaders to overtly demonstrate these behaviours through clear prioritisation and thus making them the focal point of the team.

If the challenge is to achieve a World Class level in safety we need to consider a number of factors including how 5S can contribute to this achievement, how we visually manage our workplace and the behaviours we as leaders demonstrate (and are rewarded for). Introducing 5S is a great opportunity to reinforce safety as an inherent part of organising the workplace as opposed to making it an explicit step.

Safety is an outcome of 5S (and 6S!) which is delivered by our people consistently challenging the safety performance of their area using the tools & management systems. To achieve this, they need to be supported (and encouraged) to do this by all Leaders in the business consistently and continuously.