Benefits of a Lean 5S programme

"5S" or is a method to promote a safer, cleaner, and better-organized workplace – often a factory, but the method can be applied to almost any work environment:

  • Office space – from cubicles to mail rooms to library space
  • Computer or server rooms, including online files and folders as well as physical objects
  • Work bench areas
  • Warehouses, storage sheds and outdoors storage areas
  • Hospitals and health care facilities
  • 5S before picure

If an area can become messy, cluttered, disorganized, hazardous or dirty – The five S's can improve it.

The method is not a one-shot cleaning campaign. It leads to a new quality standard which results in sustained improvements. As well, 5S provides the methodology and discipline to live up to the new standards.

Five S should spell the end to one-time cleanups and is a part of, and often the first step in Lean Manufacturing implementation.

How will 5S benefit my workplace?

The bottom line is that the improvements should result in greater profits…but let's look at some interim benefits first.

Each aspect of 5S can lead to both immediate and long-lasting benefits. Later articles deal with some benefits in greater detail, but here is a quick sample to whet your appetite.

5S addresses safety by making a workplace neater and more orderly. This reduces the risk of injuries, in both the short and long term. For example: in the short term, workers are less likely to trip over misplaced items or injure themselves on equipment lacking proper safety guards.

A neat workplace means that frequently-used tools are stored close to hand, resulting in less time wasted searching for misplaced items. Likewise, workers do not need to sift through clutter to find the specific tool or spare part needed at that moment.

In some environments, greater cleanliness will result in less dust or other airborne contaminants. This may lead to fewer chronic health issues.

Cleaner equipment may mean fewer malfunctions or breakdowns. Even in the short term, a daily five-minute cleanup can eliminate plant-wide cleaning binges required before a major customer arrives for a tour.

Over the long term, optimized workflow may result in fewer chronic ailments such as sore backs or RSI (repetitive stress injuries).

Every day, optimized workflow should result in quicker operations – whether it is a worker moving a piece directly to the workbench, or a forklift driving in a straight line rather than wending a path among cluttered piles of inventory.

5S can improve morale in several ways. Most obviously, workers and managers can take greater pride in a clean and orderly workplace. As well, every employee will have responsibilities and duties aimed at a common goal – to maintain the 5S standards – which leads to a sense of teamwork and shared vision.

Finally, a 5S program can be a stepping-stone for later initiatives such as Lean Manufacturing or Continuous Improvement.

How can these changes improve profits? Here are some of the ways:

  • Both fewer injuries, and fewer long-term illnesses, lead to a reduction in lost time, compensation, and scrambles to train workers to cover for colleagues
  • Less time spent searching for misplaced tools or parts means higher productivity
  • Cleaner equipment may mean less downtime for repairs or maintenance, and also savings on replacement parts
  • Optimized workflow leads to higher productivity due to time savings
  • Optimized workflow leads to higher productivity by reducing process errors and re-work
  • A cleaner workplace may result in cost savings for janitorial staff
  • Obsolete equipment or parts may be sold
  • Reduced inventory – whether equipment, spare parts, or raw materials – may result in reduced warehouse costs

As a rule of thumb: a workplace can achieve a 10% increase in productivity after completing a 5S programme. It does depend on the initial state of affairs: the worse when you started, the greater the improvement.

The bottom line is that 5S is good for your bottom line.

By Oskar Olofsson, author of the book "Succeeding with 5S"

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