Visual Safety Begins with 5S

Visual-Safety-Begins-with-5SA visual workplace is one that relies on visual cues and communication to operate efficiently and safely. The benefits of visual workplaces include increased quality, productivity, safety and employee morale. Visual controls provide employees with the information they need by answering questions, identifying equipment and describing procedures. They also provide safety information. In order to use visual tools to help employees better contribute to the company, it is best to implement a system known as the 5S Program. The 5S Program was developed in Japan and stands for seiri or tidiness, seiton meaning orderliness, seiso or cleanliness, seiketsu meaning standardization, and shitsuke which means discipline. These words have been redesigned to correspond with similar principles in English. In this case the letters stand for Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.


This step involves sorting through each detail of a work area and removing what is not needed. Materials, equipment, supplies and tools that are not used frequently should be moved to separate areas for storage. Items that are never used should be discarded or recycled. Sorting involves five steps: cleaning, classifying, ownership, red tagging and recycling.

  • Cleaning – It is essential to first clean the work area before attempting to identify unnecessary items. Any dirt, debris or broken equipment should be removed immediately.
  • Classifying – While the area is being cleaned, it is inevitable that different kinds of supplies will be found. These materials will need to be classified into their respective types.
  • Ownership – Once found, some items will need to be returned to the appropriate owners. If the owner it not obvious it may be necessary to ask around.
  • Red Tagging – If items cannot be classified or returned to their owners, they should be red tagged. This process involves marking them so that each item can be evaluated individually.
  • Recycling –  After a set time period, items that have not been claimed should be disposed of or reassigned.

Set and Shine

The focus of the Set step is to create effective storage methods so equipment can be easily found and returned for future use. Storage areas should be marked with labels and frequently used equipment can be stored on shadow boards. On a shadow board, the outline or shadow of the tool is used to identify its position on the board. Once everything has been sorted and organized it must be kept that way. This requires cleaning on a regular basis to prevent the buildup of clutter. The work area should be returned to the condition it was in before the work day. A cleaner work area also makes t easier to detect spills and breakages which could pose safety hazards.

Standardize and Sustain

Standardizing involves making the previous steps easier to accomplish in the future. By developing a work structure and written standards the new methods of operation will become habitual. As S5 practices become more common they should be updated and modified to improve upon the process each time. Sustaining involves maintaining the results earned from using the program. The program should be practiced on a long-term basis, thus it is a commitment to actively complete all parts of 5S and to prevent workers from reverting back to old habits.

The 5S Program is an inexpensive management approach that focuses on visual order, organization, cleanliness and standardization. It is an essential part of lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing is a production method that focuses on eliminating waste to create value. The many results garnered from implementing this approach include improved profitability, heightened efficiency and better service.

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