Turning Japanese

Good housekeeping is a good place to start implementing workplace safety with the "Five S" program

Turning Japanese with the 5 S system We can't all be Toyota (much as we'd like to), but we can apply some tried-and-true Japanese workplace practices to the seemingly mundane task of housekeeping.

Japanese companies have turned the task of orderliness into an art form - and more and more organizations around the world are following suit.

Cleanliness / tidiness may or may not be next to Godliness (who really knows?), but those characteristics have been conclusively linked to reduced hazards in the workplace, resulting in fewer accidents.

So go ahead, paint these "5 S" slogans on poster board and stick them up around your facility or office. You may hear your workers humming, "I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so…" as they tidy their way to maximum efficiency and productivity. Not to mention the pride inherent in contributing as janitor-samurais to a nicer work environment!

1. Seiri (sorting) refers to the practice of keeping only the materials, equipment and tools deemed essential in the work area; the rest is discarded. The result: fewer hazards and increased productivity because of less clutter to slow things down. A common practice is to "tag" items to decide what to discard; items pegged for disposal bear a red tag and a date. If that item isn't used by that "best before" date, it is thrown out.

2. Seiton (organizing) refers to the systematic arrangement of equipment, tools and materials to provide workers with the most efficient access. This process includes:

  • Properly labeling shelves, storage areas and cabinets
  • Arranging the most commonly used items so they are easy to access
  • Drawing outlines of tools on the tool boards so it's easy to spot where each tool goes
  • Painting floors light colors so it's easy to spot dropped items, waste material and dirt
  • Drawing lines on floors to identify movement lanes, work areas, storage areas, finished product areas and so on
  • Erecting bookshelves in the office for frequently used books, CDs, etc.

3. Seiso (cleaning or shining) is a daily activity for Japanese companies; the work area is scoured at the end of each shift. This makes it easier to spot low levels of supplies, breakage, missing tools, lubricant leaks, etc.

Apparently, the Japanese system assures us that regular cleaning and inspecting actually saves time in the long run because more time is wasted if we have to search for items and / or if we miss trouble spots when they first arise.

4. Seiketsu (standardizing) is all about making sure that the best practices developed in Seiri through to Seiso continue reliably across the enterprise. This step requires that a work structure is formulated and followed so that every worker knows precisely his / her responsibilities, and consistency and control reign.

5. Shitsuke (self-discipline or sustaining) refers to maintaining impeccable standards of safe and efficient housekeeping from day to day and year to year. This demands continuous training / education and a formal system for monitoring results.

When any new work rule or product will impact the Five S program, changes must be made at this stage, such as changes to workplace standards and procedures, and providing new forms of safety training.

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