A comprehensive guide for everything you need to know to start 5S in the workplace
Published 28 Mar 2023
5S is a systematic way of organizing workplaces by eliminating waste, improving flow, and reducing the number of processes where possible. It applies the five principles: Sort (seiri), Set in order (seiton), Shine (seiso), Standardize (seiketsu), and Sustain (shitsuke). These principles were pioneered by Toyota Motor Company and has improved efficiency in their manufacturing facilities.
5S Lean was developed by Hiroyuki Hirano in post-war Japan, where it was famously utilized by Toyota. By integrating 5S principles into their already famous manufacturing framework dubbed the Toyota Production System or TPS, Toyota gained international prominence as a prolific producer of high-quality motor vehicles.
Largely due to Toyota’s success, companies from a variety of industries have since started integrating 5S practices into their own processes. HP, Boeing, Harley-Davidson, Nike, Caterpillar, and Ford are just a few of these examples that found success with the help of 5S Lean.
5S is a launching pad for success in the global economy—when done right. Implementing the 5S system is important in the workplace because it can result in more efficient ways of getting the job done. For example, business processes can flow more efficiently when employees constantly strive to clean and set their workspace in order. Organizations can begin to maximize the benefits of practicing 5S when they recognize the need to be proactive in cutting down wastes in whatever form they may be—wasteful movement, waiting time, or step in the process.
5S Lean is helpful to almost any type of operation, regardless of industry. The need to integrate 5S Lean practices, however, depends on how urgently you need to make changes for the good of your business. Here are some signs to look out for to know if you need 5S Lean help ASAP:
Whether you feel like you’re not meeting your targets or not operating at maximum capacity, 5S Lean can help identify and eradicate inefficiencies. Using standard work practices, ergonomics, and workplace housekeeping, it will help ensure that you are making the most out of your resources.
Companies that don’t practice 5S Lean or other similar systems may end up spending more money than necessary due to overproduction and overstocking of materials. In lean construction, effort and time are considered in minimizing waste. 5S Lean is specifically designed to optimize operations and prevent the excess expenditure of company resources.
Operational inconsistencies in quality and output are directly influenced by workplace ergonomics. Adhering to 5S Lean principles can help businesses improve operations by putting machinery, equipment, tools, and materials in optimal locations for easy access and to reduce physical obstructions. By doing so, the amount of time and energy spent locating resources is kept at a minimum, resulting in the improvement of output and quality.
Escalating instances of customer complaints is a red flag that businesses can’t afford to ignore. With the most common complaints being about product and service quality, 5S Lean’s workplace-centered approach can help workers focus on consistently delivering on customer expectations.
Though a number of successful companies who use 5S are in manufacturing, 5S Lean is versatile enough to benefit just about any type of operation regardless of size and industry. Here are some general business benefits of implementing the 5S Lean methodology:
Evident in the name itself, 5S Lean aims to “trim the fat” from business operations so the relevant process and components that remain can operate at maximum capacity.
More specifically, it aims to eliminate the 7 types of waste:
Through the successful reduction of waste, productivity is naturally improved. Purchasing only the necessary equipment, materials, and tools ensures that workers spend less time sorting and setting up, and more time producing. Reviewing old processes and optimizing them for efficiency means you get more work done in less time.
Another side-effect of a “lean” workplace is improved safety. Having a well organized and clutter-free working space lowers the risk of accidents such as slips and trips, toppling or falling objects, and exposure to hazardous materials.
As simple as 5S principles may seem, the best and most effective way to set your team up for 5S success is through training and certification. While the exact curriculum for 5S training programs may vary, it is important that 5S training succeeds in helping your team understand each of the 5 principles for effective implementation no matter how many organizational changes are made along the way.
Training participants are typically tasked to complete both individual and team activities covering each of the 5 principles. 5S training is best conducted in the individual or team’s place of work as this maximizes efficiency by going through training while actually practicing 5S in your workspace.
Like SafetyCulture’s Training, a number of websites offer 5S training materials and certification. 5S training bundles may also include 5S webinars and 5S assessment templates that team leaders and other personnel in-charge can use in order to evaluate the participants’ application of 5S principles in their workspace.
Knowing where to start, especially when applying a new framework, can be daunting. Here are some basic steps you can take to start practicing 5S Lean in your business:
Knowing the basic principles of 5S as discussed above sets you up for Lean success. Having a sample 5S Lean Plan to guide you will help make your first implementation as seamless as possible.
Begin by eliminating existing dust, dirt, and debris in all work desks and other areas of operation. Hire a third-party cleaning and maintenance company with good reviews to ensure that proper cleaning procedures are utilized and work equipment and areas are safe from damage. Assign a company supervisor to oversee cleaning procedures and ensure that all equipment, tools, materials, amenities, and storage areas are adequately cleaned and tidy.
Next, identify sources of dust, dirt, and debris and work on minimizing or eradicating them, if possible. For example, if dust accumulates in the office too quickly, have the HVAC filters checked as they may need cleaning or replacement.
Finally, create protocols such as a regular cleaning schedule in order to maintain cleanliness in the workplace.
Items to note:
Aside from maintaining workplace cleanliness, workers are also expected to do the following:
Start with identifying the ideal, ergonomic location for specific machinery, equipment, materials, and tools. Some factors to consider would be the distance between two machines that are used in sequence or the distance between the material stock room and the production floor. The objective is to put facilities in their most sensible locations in order to maximize work efficiency.
Next, brainstorm with key stakeholders to figure out if the suggested changes are feasible. Discuss logistics, time and budget constraints, room layouts, etc.
Take pictures of the work area before implementing approved plans and track work improvements to properly measure the impact of changes made.
Items to note:
The first three steps of sorting, shining, and setting in order introduce new practices that aim to revitalize a workplace through ergonomics and organization. The fourth step is concerned with taking successful experiments and standardizing them across the business.
Start by holding a meeting with key stakeholders and assigning personnel to be in charge of standardization across departments and shifts. Ideally, they should be department managers and/or supervisors.
Once S4 Leaders have been established, proceed with the meeting to come up with a protocol as to how the standardization of the new work processes will be implemented. Below are the items to address:
Coordinate with the ISO coordinator or compliance officer to make sure that all updates and changes abide with ISO standards.
After standardization has been implemented, send an email blast to all stakeholders and concerned parties to ensure that everyone is updated on the new standard.
S5 is concerned with maintaining the positive effects generated by S1 to S4. This section will focus on using S5 mainly as an auditing initiative to ensure that the newly imposed standards are being followed consistently.
Once the new standards have been rolled out and all stakeholders have confirmed receipt of your email, set up a meeting with the 5S committee to come up with an auditing plan to track the positive and any negative impact caused by the recent changes. Below are the items vital to an effective auditing plan:
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Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
Initially gaining popularity through its usage in improving manufacturing processes, companies outside of the manufacturing industry discovered that the 5S methodology was versatile enough to be used for other types of business operations. Below are some of the top industries that benefit from the 5S methodology.
5S in Manufacturing Industry
Developed by Sakichi Toyoda in the 70s and integrated into the TPS (Toyota Production System), 5S helped make Toyota one of the top automobile manufacturers in the world. In both their assembly plants and offices, materials used for work are easily accessible and working space is maximized by designating areas for furniture, equipment, and fixtures. Toyota also uses plenty of checklists to ensure that all 5S activities are performed consistently. Due to Toyota’s success, 5S became a standard for manufacturing companies striving to maximize their potential.
5S in Medical Industry
In hospitals and medical practices, 5S Lean can be used to promote orderliness, ensure proper labeling of medicine and paraphernalia, and improve overall patient safety. The 5S approach also increases the operational efficiency of medical establishments as it makes it easier for employees to perform their work in an optimized and clutter-free environment.
5S in Retail Industry
5S Lean is a perfect fit for the retail industry since it promotes sorting and organization, two elements that benefit both retail workers and prospective customers. Seiri is applied to sort stocks in the store room so workers can easily find specific items, and it can also be applied to display racks to make sure customers can find what they’re looking for without issue. Seiton is applied by labeling stock and equipment for easy identification and placing them in optimal locations for quick access. Seiso is applied to keep the store and stocks clean and well maintained, while Seiketsu and Shitsuke are applied by implementing standards and protocols via training to ensure that quality is maintained across all branches at all times.
5S in Hospitality Industry
The goals of hotels, restaurants, resorts, and other businesses in the hospitality sector naturally align with 5S principles. The organization, order, cleanliness, and consistency—qualities customers look for in a hospitality setting—are achieved through the 5S methodology. Integrating 5S principles within the culture of hospitality businesses improves operational efficiency, maximizes resources, and increases overall customer satisfaction.
5S in Computer Industry
Hewlett-Packard’s Computer Systems Division uses 5S to make system building more efficient. Having computer parts sorted, properly labeled, and stored in easily accessible areas make manufacturing faster and easier. Additionally, 5S can also be used to streamline work in software. Marking frequently used tools to make them easily accessible saves time and promotes increased productivity, and standardizing work practices can keep employee performance consistent across different offices and shifts.
5S in Education
Schools need to create a pleasant environment conducive to learning in order to be effective. Classrooms benefit from 5S Lean by removing all unnecessary items from the classroom including excess seats, tables, cabinets, and materials, to help students focus. Afterward, setting the remaining furniture and fixtures in order can maximize space and provide sufficient room for all students. Lastly, 5S provides a framework to sustain the optimal learning environment that it sets for each classroom.
5S in General Office
Regardless of industry, almost all businesses have an operations center that takes care of the business function from behind the scenes. Offices that do not practice 5S Lean or a similar methodology often have cluttered desks and storage rooms, as well as untidy work areas, materials, and equipment. This kind of work environment hurts productivity, and unintentionally promotes wasteful use of resources. Removing unnecessary items and applying 5s in the workplace can boost efficiency and even bring down operational costs.
Implementing 5s in other aspects of the workplace such as product management, project planning, or quality control, among others, also helps ensure that the processes included in them are organized and set up for success.
The pillars or principles of 5s Lean are Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. These five pillars represent a specific set of actions, which, when utilized and implemented harmoniously together, is proven to reduce waste and improve productivity, therefore increasing operational efficiency.
While both the 5s and Six Sigma methodologies can be used to improve efficiency and reduce waste, the main difference between the two is their approach and focus. 5S emphasizes optimizing the work environment, while Six Sigma focuses on identifying and eliminating defects and errors in processes through statistical analysis using tools such as Control charts, Pareto charts, and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), among others.
While 5S Lean focuses specifically on workplace organization and standardization, Kaizen is an approach to overall process improvement. To elaborate, 5s Lean provides a framework for creating a clean and organized workplace, while Kaizen provides a methodology for continuous improvement beyond just workplace organization.
Some of the main industries that use and benefit from enforcing 5s Lean are the manufacturing industry, medical, retail, hospitality, technology, and education. Generally, though, any industry that values efficiency, productivity, and quality can benefit from applying this methodology.
5S checklists aid area supervisors or plant managers when performing monthly or quarterly 5s audits. It helps to better address compliance gaps and provides opportunities for continuous improvement.
Perform 5s Audits using SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor), a mobile 5s auditing app and records management tool that can capture photos of items that are no longer needed, in-app using any mobile device. Share and access 5s audit report anytime, anywhere right after the inspection with a single tap of a finger. Notify team members within the organization to work on urgent actions, and schedule 5S inspections to promote productivity best practices. Get started with ready to use 5s checklists.
Jona Tarlengco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. She usually writes about safety and quality topics, contributing to the creation of well-researched articles. Her 5-year experience in one of the world’s leading business news organisations helps enrich the quality of the information in her work.
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