The 5S Methodology can improve efficiency and productivity in industrial facilities, but is also invaluable in safety programs. How can 5S be used to improve safety? The same steps that improve efficiency can create a safer environment—which means better audit scores, fewer accidents, and less employee time wasted. When implementing or evaluating your facility’s 5S or Lean protocols, consider these ways to apply 5S methods to improve your location’s overall safety, as well.

5s success

1) Create Safer Work Areas Through Organization

The Sort step clears clutter from workstations, storage areas, and walkways. When you remove unnecessary items from the workspace, you improve safety. With less clutter in the way, there’s space to complete required tasks—with less distraction. Employees are better able to complete tasks safely when focus is improved. As part of the Sort step, create a Red Tag Holding Area, an easy location to unload unneeded items, and encourage all employees to declutter and organize their stations. A Kaizen event may be the ideal opportunity to tackle this process. Follow these three easy steps for cleaning up work areas using the Red Tag method.

  • Evaluate everything within the workspace to identify items that are required, and weed out items that are stored in the wrong area, broken, or otherwise unnecessary.
  • Remove items that are unnecessary, broken, or misplaced. Tag them—you can use a highly visible red tag as the method’s name suggests, but any color will do. The physical tags should include:
    • Date removed from the floor
    • Area from where it was removed
    • Reason it’s been red-tagged
    • Action to complete after the holding period is over
  • Redistribute or dispose of items after the holding period. After a set amount of time, typically one month from the date the item was logged, remove the item from the holding area. If the item is found to be necessary during the holding period, return it to its original location. Otherwise, some common solutions include:
    • Relocating it to an area that needs the tool
    • Disposing of the item if it is broken and beyond repair
    • Recycling the item, if appropriate
    • Selling the item if it is not useful but still has value
    • Properly storing the item if it is used seasonally
    • Repairing, if necessay

Red-tagging helps redistribute tools where they’re needed, removes broken items from the workflow, and helps create new habits throughout the facility. Employees will be less likely to leave items where they don’t belong, which can reduce clutter in workspaces, traveled areas, and near safety equipment or exit and egress locations—which helps improve safety for all.

2) Make Tools Easier to Find for Reduced Rushing

The Straighten step ensures everything has a place. Organized workspaces make tools and equipment easy to find, so employees spend less time looking for what they need. This means they’ll feel less rushed, so they’re focused on the job instead of the time it takes to find a required item. After the Sort step, ensure every necessary item has its place. Floor marking tape can improve your facility’s 5S efforts. Mark everything from storage areas to traveled lanes to improve organization. Apply floor marking tape or corners to designate pallet locations, use pre-cut floor marking kits as cues for exits and health and safety locations that must be free from clutter, or apply numbered floor signs to parking spots that correspond with labeled forklifts so each vehicle has an assigned space.

Floor markings that improve organization benefit both long-term employees by creating visual reminders of where items go, as well as new or temporary employees who must learn where items belong. Visuals improve decision-making skills and staff autonomy so employees are more likely to comply with implemented organizational methods, creating a safer workspace.

floor tape in warehouse

3) Remove Hazards to Prevent Accidents

The Shine step is a continuous part of 5S, and is imperative for removing potential hazards before safety is impacted. Clearing away hazards can improve overall safety, and can also prevent health and safety risks and further damage when managed quickly and appropriately. This may include:

  • Cleaning up spills immediately, or cordoning off an area where specialized cleaning procedures are required
  • Clearing away broken pallet pieces, including any nails or other debris, after a break
  • Removing broken or damaged pallets, shelving units, or warehouse racks to prevent collapse
  • Inspecting ladders, stairways, ramps, and other areas where changes in elevation occur to ensure anti-slip tape is in good repair
  • Improving processes for collecting or cleaning work-related debris such as sawdust, metal shavings, and other waste from the manufacturing line
  • Designating one-way traffic and separating vehicular and foot traffic lanes facility-wide
  • Evaluating machinery and vehicles to ensure there are no oil leaks, exhaust concerns, soft tires, or other hazards

4) Set Consistent Processes to Improve Safety

The Standardize step creates consistent processes and ensures expectations are clear facility-wide. Color standards, signage, workflows, and routines fall within this 5S step. With clearly marked instructions, employees can anticipate need—and it can also help make inconsistencies or errors stand out so it’s easier to spot an issue before it becomes a problem.

Standardized methods and processes also allow employees to shift from one location to another with minimal adjustment for differences in communication methods, processes, or other requirements. Consistency between departments adds a layer of safety that may not be present otherwise. If temporary adjustments in the workforce mean staff must swap to areas where the system is entirely different, it takes extra time to get them up to speed as well. Creating standard processes and procedures improves efficiency overall.

Incorporate processes and requirements into initial training and regular refreshers, which can help improve employee compliance. Ensure workflows are intuitive and make sense, from the order tools are stored to the responsibilities assigned to each employee.

5) Remember That Safety Is a Moving Target

The Sustain step encourages continuous improvement, an important consideration as safety needs are fluid. As needs change, so too should methods. As departments grow or update technology, the processes may also need to be revamped. No part of facility safety is static: Every requirement must be scrutinized to ensure it’s providing the intended benefit. When methods are no longer effective, new procedures should replace them.

To ensure the methods laid out in the first four steps remain effective, regular evaluation is necessary.

  • Audit processes to gauge efficacy and long-term benefit
  • Explore inspection reports to determine what needs an immediate response
  • Watch for areas where routines are no longer meeting the needs of the facility and adjust as necessary
  • Gather feedback from employees to determine what processes improve their workflow, and which may impede it
  • Install signage and floor marking tape to reinforce behaviors and policies that may be ignored or forgotten
  • Encourage employee buy-in through facility-wide safety culture

5S improves safety by developing and implementing organization methods and streamlining warehousing and manufacturing processes, but setting these processes is only the beginning: Regular evaluation and method adjustments help to create a safer, more efficient workplace. For more 5S tips and expert advice, explore our Resource Center.