Beyond 5S - improving safety with 6S

Thursday, 27 July, 2006


The 5S system has been instrumental in improving productivity, quality and safety for Australia's manufacturers. Bob Carter from Improvement Tools explains how the new 6S system goes even further in ensuring safety gains.

The 5S system originated in Japan and is now a common tool for improving workplace productivity, quality, throughput and safety. It can be used in any environment, such as the factory floor, warehouse, workshop or office. Many companies moving to implement lean manufacturing start with a series of 5S events to remove the workplace clutter and improve workflows between processes.

The 5S system was so named, as it is based around five Japanese words that all start with the letter S. There are several variations promoted in the West that use slightly differing definitions of these words, but the methodology does not vary.

Seiri or Sort

The first step is to assess what is actually needed in an area and is similar to spring cleaning - if you don't use it, get rid of it or store it in the right place. Define how much is needed and identify where it should be placed.

Seiton or Set in Order

Everything has a place and should be located where it is to be used. This phase includes colour coding, labelling and other methods of easy identification.

Seisou or Shine

This step develops methods for ensuring the plant is 'tour ready'. When a plant has a clean layout it is easy to recognise when something is out of place, or a source of contamination.

Seiketsou or Standardise

Standards are defined to ensure that things stay tidy, orderly and clean.

Shitsuke or Sustain

This involves developing a system to constantly assess performance and challenge for improved methods.

A 5S system such as this has been used by the Japanese since the 1980s, and yet many Australian companies are only just introducing the concept. It is used to manage the work area more effectively and should not be confused with other programs such as total productive maintenance (TPM) that are more machine and equipment focused.

The Japanese Industrial Safety and Health Association found that companies that implemented a 5S program made significant impacts on the safety and productivity of their workforce.

Larger companies in Australia and New Zealand that have implemented 5S systems have experienced similar results, however many small to medium enterprises still don't know this method exists.

So how does 5S work?

Lean manufacturers will often identify the bottlenecks in their processes and decide a 5S activity should take place to improve throughput. A team will be formed to review the workplace layout and workflows after some initial training.

As with all lean tools, 5S is about eliminating waste and maximising value-added work. To this end, 5S uses its process to create and maintain an organised, clean and efficient setting that enables the highest level of value-added performance. This means eliminating search, travel, transporting materials and inventory. It achieves its ends by introducing organisation, eliminating unneeded materials and establishing self-discipline.

Training will often include the completion of a workplace assessment and/or a 'waste hunt' using the five Ss. An action plan to streamline the workflows will be identified during this process. This is followed by a 'red tag' event - any item not required is removed or tagged pending a decision on where it should be stored.

Once surplus items have been removed, the team decides where, how much and how remaining items should be stored. This often includes colour coding, installation of storage systems, shadow boards and labelling. This is known as 'Set in Order'.

This is a good time to challenge the existing workflows and try to reduce retrieval times for tools, equipment, material and information. A good guide is that material should be capable of being retrieved within 30 seconds in the immediate work area and two minutes within a department.

A clean-up and often a new coat of paint is applied in the next step - 'Shine'. This step will install a sense of pride in the workplace and ensure it is easy to keep in pristine condition.

The next step is to 'Standardise' methods for maintaining the workplace in the new condition. Many companies neglect to do this step and often find their plant reverts back to the original state over a period of time.

The final step is to develop a method of 'Sustaining' improvements in the workplace. This is often done through a series of ongoing assessments carried out by a work area team and supported by management.

Six steps for safety

Implementing a 5S program will improve safety and reduce the risk profile of a work area, but it does not focus on safety directly. Many companies are now including safety in their 5S programs and call these either 6S or 5S+1 programs.

The Japanese Industrial Safety and Health Association found that companies that implemented a 6S program made further gains on their safety and productivity results.

Ideally, the 6S system will follow the following sequence - Sort, Set in Order, Safety, Shine, Standardise, Sustain. Once the original clutter is removed then safety, work practices, access and risk exposure can be assessed and actioned.

When 'setting in order' the new process for ergonomic risk and repetitive uses, injury risk can be reviewed to ensure appropriate systems are built into the new methods.

The introduction of Safety as the sixth S enables the creation and maintenance of an organised, clean, safe and efficient setting.

Companies that have added Safety to their existing 5S program and are reaping the benefits of lower risk profiles include US Defence Forces, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and many food processors and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Industries with high risk profiles such as metal, mining and construction have the most to gain, yet are largely unaware of 5S and 6S systems.

There are some crucial differences between the application of a 5S system and a 6S system. Many lean companies use 5S to improve productivity or to balance workloads between processes, with a focus on lead-time reduction. 6S is an ideal tool for workplace health and safety officers to address risk profiles in a work area or reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Lean manufacturers and those that already have the 5S system in place will find it easy to add an extra step to existing foundations. Best of all, the system makes it easy to implement a common tool to align safety goals with business objectives.

Related Articles

Safety management today: 5 key problems

A safety management and organisational change expert sets out five key problems with the way that...

Elevate your digital journey — it's 2021 already

As a risk and/or safety management professional, are you engaging in and embracing the digital...

ISO 37301: keeping on top of compliance

Modern organisations across several industries are turning to paperless solutions to manage their...


  • All content Copyright © 2021 Westwick-Farrow Pty Ltd