Supply chain solution blog

Continuous Improvement : 5S in action throughout our Warehouse

What is 5S?

5S is a structured way to create and maintain a clean, organised and safe workplace. 5S was developed by Hiroyuki Hirano in Japan and was adopted by the Toyota Motor Company. It helps create and maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of a work area by having everything needed close to hand and any clutter removed. 5S is a common starting point for Lean activities in a company by eliminating waste from processes such as: wasted time searching for items; excess inventory; extra motion and extra processing.

What is it for?

Using the 5S techniques it is a way to create:

  • Cleaner work areas
  • More organisation
  • Safer working conditions
  • Less wasted time
  • Efficient work processes and practices
  • More available space

What does 5S mean?

The term 5S comes from five Japanese words:

  • Seri meaning 'Sort' – going through the workplace to determine what is needed and removing any item that is not needed
  • Seiton meaning 'Set in order' – "a place for everything and everything in its place"; creating a specific place for everything
  • Seiso meaning 'Shine' – cleaning for inspection with proactive efforts to regularly keep workplaces clean
  • Seiketsu meaning 'Standardize' – developing common methods for consistency creating a set of standards for both organisation and processes
  • Shitsuke meaning 'Sustain' – sustain any new practices and conduct audits to maintain discipline and continue improving.


The practice of sorting through all the items in the workplace and only keeping items that are actually needed. Ask questions such as: what is the purpose of this item?; how often is this item used?; who uses this item?; when was it last used?; does it need to be stored here?

Employees should remove any items from the area which are broken, unused or out of calibration.

'Red Tags' are often used when employees are unsure of the intended use/frequency of use of an item. A red tag is completed and placed on the item and then moved to a designated red tag holding area. If after a predetermined amount of time the item hasn't been used then it can be removed from the red tag area. A decision then needs to be made on whether to keep or dispose of the item as there is no point keeping an item which is taking up valuable space and never used.

Set in Order

Items should be organised so that they can be found, used and put away easily. Workplaces can be organised using labels, tape, shelving, storage boxes and shadow-boards for tools etc. Ask questions such as: where is the logical place to store item?; how should items be grouped?; are storage containers required eg boxes for any small items?

This is particularly important for COSHH substances which should be clearly labelled and stored in a lockable container.

You should store all your packaging and labels in an organised way so the different sizes can be easily located as required.


This is the cleaning up of the work area. The team will be required to put tools and equipment away, wipe down surfaces, sweep and mop floors etc.

You may need to train employees on which cleaning products to use especially within the ESD protective area and where cleaning products should be stored. Also any specific instructions on how to clean particular types of equipment especially if it is valuable or could be easily damaged.

Employees should also use this time as a chance to inspect all items including equipment whilst they are cleaning. This will allow for regular maintenance or repairs to be conducted or items to be discarded where necessary. You may also wish to use a checklist and/or sign-off sheet showing that the cleaning tasks have been carried out.


This means doing things in a consistent way. You might have visual controls such as taped areas to show where items should be correctly stored. This is important as it is about forming new habits rather than being seen as a quick spring-clean project. A checklist or photos of how each area should look may be useful to help the team keep to the routine.


5S is most effective when applied in a systematic way with one improvement at a time. Now there are standard procedures in place employees need to maintain and procedures should be reviewed and updated where necessary. The use of a monthly 5S audit can be a valuable tool for maintaining a high standard of 5S.

Potential issues when introducing 5S:

  • Ensuring all employees are engaged in the process
  • Moving or disposing of personal items
  • Can be time consuming to set up initially
  • Making time available
  • Consistently follow 5S procedures
  • Maintaining the gains
  • Integrate 5S with other improvement activities

Essentially employees should not see 5S as something else to be done alongside their regular job. 5S should be integrated in all work practices and become the norm.

The 6S?

Some organisations refer to an additional 'S': 'Safety'. Here the focus is on safety throughout the whole process. This requires all employees to eliminate risks through maintaining the 5S process.

We are constantly striving to improve our processes and eliminate risks and waste. There is no exception within our warehouse and 5S assists us to continually improve our business.

Continuous Improvement is a way of life here at Component Sense.

Kenny McGee, CEO