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What is 5S?

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  • Written By: Rolando Braza
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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5S is a set of housekeeping rules conceptualized by the Japanese to instill discipline in the workplace for a cleaner and more organized manufacturing environment. It was later adopted in work settings other than the production shop floor, including offices in Japan and other continents. Five Japanese action words starting with the letter s have been coined to easily recall the housekeeping rules that must be regularly followed to sustain order, cleanliness, and efficiency in the workplace. The five action words are seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke.

Seiri means to sort. Parts and tools needed in the production line must be separated from the parts and tools that are not required and must therefore be disposed. Offices can mimic a production line and also sort office tools and materials to keep a lean working environment and make it easy for an office worker to locate the things he or she needs to complete a process or service. Creating a checklist of the things a production or office worker needs to do a job will streamline the process of eliminating unneeded tools and materials.

Seiton stands for setting order in the workplace. The parts and tools needed for production must be properly labeled and put in their proper places and within easy reach of the worker. In the office, this means putting office supplies and materials in their proper places and sequence similar to an assembly line for seamless completion of a transaction or service.

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A production worker must also sweep the workplace and clean the machines to prevent breakdown and repair. This is called seiso, and it must be done regularly. A clean working environment is also beneficial to an office worker. He or she will be able to breath clean air and avoid getting sick.

Standardization, which is termed seiketsu in Japanese, will enable a worker to perform daily tasks with ease and speed, whether he or she is on the production floor or in an office. Documenting the step-by-step procedure in accomplishing a person's work will allow him or her to perform the task in a routine fashion. There will be no more trial and error, and waste of time and materials will be minimized, if not totally eliminated.

Once the organization is already practicing 5S, efforts must be made to sustain the habit of good housekeeping established through 5S. This is known as shitsuke. This can be done through constant motivation of all members of the organization to continue practicing 5S. One way to motivate each one to sustain the habit of 5S is to organize interdepartmental contests to highlight best practices. A surprise audit could also be undertaken by a 5S patrol to keep everybody on their toes and remain consistent in maintaining order and cleanliness in the workplace until it becomes a way of life and a culture in the organization.

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