5S or 6S… which should it be?

By Ron Pereira Updated on August 3rd, 2010

I was recently asked the following question by a continuous improvement practitioner:

“Should we make safety the 6th S, thus calling it 6S instead of 5S?”

I offered my two cents but rather than sharing my thoughts at this time I am more interested in what you think.

So, two questions.

  1. Does your company call it 5S or 6S?
  2. Do you think adding safety to the list makes sense? If so, why? If not, why?

  1. Ray McBeth

    August 4, 2010 - 8:17 am

    We call it 5S. Safety is a part of all the S’s which is why we don’t call it out as a separate S.

  2. Adam Schwartz

    August 4, 2010 - 6:47 pm

    We call it 5S, though I’ve also seen 5S+S. I work in software development, where safety concerns are pretty minimal. Not to downplay the reality of carpal tunnel syndrome, but it barely makes the radar for us. In cases where saftey is part of the common toolset/language, such as in QCDS, we’ve replaced Saftey with (employee) Satisfaction to support the “Respect for Employees” aspect of LEAN.

  3. Rick Kennedy

    August 4, 2010 - 10:27 pm

    We call it 6S, with the 6th S being “Safety and Security”. Yes, I make that to be 7 Ss as well. 🙂 There is an argument to be made to adding Safety and Security in a healthcare setting, where patients are so very dependent on workers doing their job right and with minimal waste to keep them safe and secure. The downside is that it interferes with the natural flow of the first five Ss. In other words, the 6th S doesn’t precede or follow the other 5, it runs in parallel. This can be a little confusing at first. If I had my druthers I would probably stick with 5S, but I have no real quibble with 6S.

  4. Paul Langlois

    August 5, 2010 - 6:18 am

    Why fix something that works? We call it 5S and don’t plan to change it. While safety is paramount, I believe adding Safety as a 6th S is artificial and confusing – it’s not another step in the process, which leads to confusion and might even obfuscate the purpose of the process and reduce the importance of the other steps. Sometimes, less is more.

  5. Michael Rusate

    August 5, 2010 - 6:21 am

    Throughout our corporation you can find it called both. My opinion. Safety is part of everything we do. It is non-negotiable. There is no need to create a 6th “s” for safety

  6. John Sutton

    August 5, 2010 - 6:36 am

    We call it 6S but personally I wish we called it 5S since adding safety sends the message that it’s separate from the others. It’s not.

  7. David McGan

    August 5, 2010 - 6:39 am

    Adding “Safety” as a 6th “S” dilutes the focus on Safety. As someone else mentioned above, it becomes just another step in the process. Safety should be emphasized, very strongly, as THE most important focus of any operation.

  8. Wilson

    August 5, 2010 - 6:49 am

    I personally agree with Michel. It is very difficult most of the time achieve aand sustain a complete program of 5’s getting all the people involved in the last ‘s. So, as I believe as Michel. Safety is non-negotiable it would be better not include in into the 5’s and treat Safety as KPI. It is more important care and involve everyone in Safety than any other ‘s.

  9. Randy Blake

    August 5, 2010 - 6:53 am

    We call it 5S, but 5S is not something that is stand alone. It is part of our everyday activities. It is incorporated in everything we do. Safety is too important to grouped with something else.

  10. Rick Foreman

    August 5, 2010 - 6:57 am

    Although safety is a part of our DNA, we have a 6th S for Safety. When using cross-funcitional auditors between offices and plants we’ve seen it just acts as another cultural reinforcement towards safe practices. When specifically looking for normal verses abnormal in a 6S audit, we’re still developing a very diverse work force to understand that you do not casually place things in front of an eye wash station or a fire extinquisher. It also acts as a good update for validating evacuation plans, etc. I’m good either way but the thought is to keep focus on disciplined thinking in all areas. I heard that Lockheed has 7S.

  11. Richard Hampshire UK

    August 5, 2010 - 8:28 am

    5S’s – Enhanced Safety is a result of the 5S’s. A safe working environment should be embedded in all parts of the enterprise and is not negotiable.

  12. leansimulations

    August 5, 2010 - 8:58 am

    We call it 5S with safety as a consideration in all the S’s, as in everything else. I think (in manufacturing) that after incorporating all 5S’s you will be creating a safer environment. Cleaner, standardized, less confusion leads to a safer workplace, even if safety isn’t explicitly identified.

    The purpose of 5S is to be more lean, more efficient, more productive, eliminate waste. Of course this should be done in a safe manner, but that’s not the point. 5S is a tool like any other. Do you have safety as an item in your TPM programs, six sigma projects, kaizen events, suggestion programs, quality circles, SMED initiatives, 5 whys, fishbone diagrams, other problem solving tools? Safety should be a part of the culture in everything, but doesn’t need to be formalized in each tool.

  13. Jim Scott

    August 5, 2010 - 10:49 am

    I understand and support the concept of 6S. Just as you are making a concerted effort to clean-up and organize, taking a new perspective on Safety is a excellent idea. However noble, the ‘root cause’ of 5S is not to ‘clean and organize’ – it is to create and environment where deviation and error are conspicuously evident. To that end, Safety does not contribute, it supersedes.

  14. Mark Graban

    August 7, 2010 - 11:13 am

    I’m squarely in the 5S camp. “Safety” just happens to start with S. I’ve always joked “why not add Security” and make it 7S, but apparently that’s happening.

    Safety should always be the #1 priority, jamming into 5S to make it 6S makes safety seem like a “program” which it should not be. It should be embedded in every decision and every day life of an organization.

  15. Brian Z Jones

    August 7, 2010 - 11:23 am

    My 40yrs-in-Toyota President continually said “4S,” b/c the Sustain was assumed.

    Our from-Dow General Manager tried to put our 5S courses under the Safety regimen, which I was aganist, as improved Safety is a side benefit, but not the goal of 5S.


  16. anonymous

    August 9, 2010 - 11:09 am

    I’ve always thought this 5S, 6S, 7S stuff was kind of a one-upmanship game, sometimes played by consultants or competing organizations. Kind of like, “mine’s bigger than yours because we practice 6S, not 5S.” If you’re doing 5S right, i.e. using it to surface waste while reducing it, you already HAVE safety and security. The rest is just BS.

  17. Simon Cunnane

    August 10, 2010 - 2:07 am

    “The purpose of 5S is to be more lean, more efficient, more productive, eliminate waste.”

    I disagree with the above. What is the goal of 5S? Or 3S, 4S, 6S or 7S?
    My understanding is that it is a way of HIGHLIGHTING PROBLEMS. Practicing 5S might mean that a problem is noticed, but the area around it is so clean and pretty that the problem remains, it just looks nicer.

    If we’re not asking “Why” through every step of 5S, we’re not really achieving anything.

  18. Tom Farrington

    August 10, 2010 - 7:14 am

    I can understand the logic of adding Safety to the 5S program and calling it 6S, but I believe this is an effort to pay lip service to Safety by some misguided leaders. In my opinion, safety should not be a priority – not even priority number one. It should not be a goal of the business and it should not be an initiative we undertake to improve. Safety must be a Core Value of the business. Priorities come and go, 5S isn’t always implemented successfully and doing it as a project just makes it the flavor of the month. Core values should not change and that is where safety belongs.

  19. Dustin Campbell

    August 10, 2010 - 11:07 am

    We will begin the transition from 5s to 6s. You need to ask yourself, what are we trying to solve (what is the problem)? 5s is about visual standard work, normal from abnormal and the system to create and sustain this cultural attribute. We are currently driving for a “one year w/ out a TRR” goal. To do this we need to drive focus. 6s will help drive this focus. From a resource use 6s will allow more focus on safety auditing w/ out requiring more “formal” safety audits (which we currently do). Auditing the safety factors of an area while simultaneously auditing the 5s makes smart use of a trained set of eyes that are already in place reviewing the areas condition.

    As far as the comments about safety needing to be assumed or apart of the culture… I agree but so should 5s. The last time I was at TMMK 5s was apparent everywhere but the folks on the floor where not using the term, or a system that was as apparent as ours, however, the results were evident and apart of their DNA.

    So many times “terms” are necessary for new things that we need to explain. Sometimes we use terms to make common language amongst our organization. What it is called is less of a concern compared to what it accomplishes. I say call it 10s, as long as you can make the pursuit of visual observation and problem solving a strand in your DNA.

    End game…what are you trying to solve?

  20. leansimulations

    August 10, 2010 - 12:17 pm

    Posted by Simon Cunnane 10th August, 2010 at 2:07 am
    “My understanding is that it is a way of HIGHLIGHTING PROBLEMS.”

    So true, Simon. Thanks for clarifying. Sometimes I can get so caught up in the minutia of 5S that the core is lost.

  21. Quinn

    September 6, 2010 - 12:13 pm

    I personally think it could all be summarized in 2 ‘S’ and an ‘I’
    1. Standardize
    2. Sustain
    3. Improve the standard
    If you are incapable of setting standards and sustaining standards every effort to sweep shine, sort and make safe is going to fail.

    When setting standards ask yourself will you standardize a messy disorganized and unsafe process.. the answer should of course be no therefor all those S’s are sub-headings of Standardize. That is my opinion take it or leave it.

  22. Jose-Luis Ruiz

    September 6, 2010 - 12:45 pm

    I rather support Mr or Ms Anonymous opinion. I don’t see any reason for the 5S’s to borrow an “S” from Safety and Security. If that is the case, they should borrow an “H” from Health and an “E” from Environment. Safety, Health and Environment have to go with the “labor” regardless of the 5S consideration. In the poker game of enterprise S+H+E kill 5S’s, for one simple reason: S+H+E are mandatory.

  23. Barry

    September 6, 2010 - 1:19 pm

    Guys and Gals,

    5S, 6S, 7S……..

    You should use whichever works for your business – simples!

  24. Rick Field

    September 6, 2010 - 3:14 pm

    We call it 5s safety is inbuilt in our culture so its always safety first.
    Work place organization (5s) creates a safer work place Who has seen a well organized work place that is unsafe?

  25. Ryan Fleser

    September 6, 2010 - 5:14 pm

    Adding one S or two Ss won’t mean a thing if management doesn’t walk the talk. Just like 5S, safety has to have management involvement to be successful. Not just support, but being out there and seeing what is happening. The founders of lean were not blind to safety or security so one has to wonder if they didn’t feel 6Ss were important why should we today.

  26. Bryan

    September 6, 2010 - 7:15 pm

    Using 6S sounds like the safety process (notice I didn’t say “program”) has been added to 5S. To me that subordinates the safety process to something, 5S, that should be part of every process in the organization, including environmental health and safety. If respect for people is truly an organization value, then E H & S aren’t going to be subordinated to anything: not cost, not quality, not delivery, and not a continuous improvement tool. Also, since 5S should be part of every process, placing it with safety minimizes its importance to continuous improvement in everything else the organization does. The should be separate.

  27. Michael

    September 7, 2010 - 12:12 am

    We are a pharmaceutical company and although we remain true to the original 5S’s, we have modified the tool a little to say 5S + 1. The +1 being the visual workplace. As we 5S a workcenter, we ask ourselves a few questions…”Is 5S visual enough for an audit to be done without asking questions?”, “Does the workcenter provide the correct information at a glance?”, “During a walk-through GEMBA can we determine the status of the workcenter, again without asking any questions”, and finally, the key to Lean Sigma and Continuous Improvement, “Can we identify abnormalities quickly?” That is the +1 piece of 5S that continues to move us toward continuous improvement and leaner processes and facilities.

  28. Michelle

    September 7, 2010 - 5:13 am

    We use 5S+1. The focus remains on 5S – improving and creating a visual workspace. If you implement 5S properly and there is a safety culture already established, safety is inherent as you progress through 5S. Having said that, we added the +1 as a reminder to think about safety as you develop the new standard.

  29. Steve

    September 7, 2010 - 9:16 am

    Safety first, Quality second is a phrase I coined and put on the top of my business card to reflect that safety should be first and foremost on everyone’s mind and in all organizations. Before it can be a way of life, it has to be taught; thus, safety is a program with its own policies and procedures. When hiring someone, the first things they should be taught are the safety procedures, hazards on and around the job and what to do in the event of an emergency and/or accident.

    The quality program explains how to do things in a manner to meet or exceed customer requirements/expectations while meeting statutory, regulatory and organizational requirements. 5S is really 3S since standardized is the method for making the first three the norm and sustain is went they are the norm. For example, in order to help me help my daughter memorize her memory verses for church, I have an alarm on my phone go off at 630 pm each evening with a nifty little tune that she and my 2 yr old will start wiggling / dancing to, and she knows thats the sound for her to recite her verses to me. This is our method for standardizing a set time to do something. Once we do it long enough, it will become the norm and will eventually not need the alarm. Ask some elders if they still need an alarm clock after getting up at the same time everyday of thirty, forty, fifty plus years… I’ve already started waking up just before the alarm goes off most mornings.

    Anyway, getting back to my response, 3S/5S is a tool used within quality management to reduce waste and allow abnormalities to be immediately recognized. With all tools, there should be something within the safety program that addresses safety requirements, policies, processes, procedures, etc. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any requirement to add it to 5S when it is already there.

    On a side note, most people mention adding it to the end when in fact if you are to add it, you should add it to the beginning. Before embarking on any project, safety should be looked at first not last…

  30. Chuck McCarthy

    September 7, 2010 - 10:47 am

    We added the 6th S after getting customer feedback. Safety was already embedded in the 5S’s, so we just pulled out “safety” items and created 6S.

  31. Naresh

    September 8, 2010 - 8:37 am

    6S is gud because so many companies doesn’t follow safety because they are safety is not consider a part mainly newly implemented companies i recommend
    6s because its more clarity

  32. Jim Brewton

    December 20, 2010 - 4:50 pm

    Why not 7S…”Share” results and best practices!

  33. K Paramagurunathan

    December 21, 2010 - 12:47 am

    In our organisation we call it 5S.

    Including safety as 6th S will help only when the elements and application are well defined and robust such that it fits to any organisation irrespective of products they deliver.

    Level of safety even varies between organisations.

    Defining the 6th S will help to adopt in organisations effectively

  34. Steve

    November 15, 2011 - 11:10 am

    If you are going to have a 6S program, safety should be the first “S”, since as many say, it is above everything else. “Safety First!”

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