Have you ever walked around a shop floor and thought to yourself “Someday, somebody’s going to hit their head on that” or “…trip on that” or “bang their knee on that”? Yet, far too often if it doesn’t happen to 99.9% of the people, the situation will be left unresolved.

The problem is that safety is too frequently reactive. We don’t take action until there is an incident or accident. To be truly effective, safety should not be an afterthought but should be proactive. That is why safety is such a valuable part of each 5s step.

A Quick Review

We’ve written about both safety and 5s as separate issues in the past. As a quick review, 5s is a lean manufacturing process with its roots in five Japanese words:

  • Seiri – (Sort)
  • Seiton – (Set in Order or Straightening)
  • Seiso – (Shine)
  • Seiketsu – (Standardize)
  • Sitsuke – (Sustain)

One of the primary principles of 5s is that there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place. This results in a neater, cleaner, more organized and therefore safer environment.

An Integral Part of the Process

Many organization undergo the 5s process to improve efficiency. But efficiency without safety is not efficient at all. That is why safety should not be a by-product of 5s, but an integral part of the thought process when implemented it. In other words, if moving a tool or part to an area that may be more convenient but increases employee risk in accessing it, it is contrary to one of the core values of 5s. There really is no risk/reward equation to 5s. It should be viewed more as safety/reward.

1. Sorting for Safety

When tools and parts are sorted for the project at hand, it places them within greater proximity to the team member, not only minimizing movement and fatigue but reducing the risk of mistakes, both of which can lead to safety issues.

2. Set in Order for Safety

When tools are set in logical order, it greatly enhances the odds that the right tool will be used for the right job. There will be less temptation to grab a tool that is closer at hand. Using painted shadow boards helps assure tools remain in the right place.

3. Shining for Safety

Greasy tools, machinery that is not properly maintained and cluttered work areas can create safety hazards. Keeping tools, equipment and workspace clean is not just the right thing to do, it is the safe thing to do.

4. Standardizing for Safety

Work areas should be standardized to the point where when there is an abnormality, it is obvious that something is amiss. This is potentially a good way to discover a safety issue before it becomes a problem.

5. Sustaining Safety

To sustain the safety benefits of the 5s system, the system must be monitored for effectiveness. This means engaging team members to report areas that could use improvement and be open to suggestions. It means being proactive in looking for and eliminating problems.

Not Just on the Shop Floor

While 5S will enhance safety on the shop floor, it also has safety implications in other areas. In offices, for example, it can help identify a file cabinet that could be placed in a safer, more efficient location. It can create more urgency in taking care of loose carpeting or other trip hazards. In IT it can lead to better cable management. In shipping or receiving it can reduce safety risks before incidents occur.

While safety is not the goal of 5s, it is a primary benefit, especially when safety is a proactive factor in its implementation.