5S or 6S


5S or 6S? The ongoing discussion over 6S (safety added) and 5S lights up comment boxes across the blogosphere. It seems to be a hot topic in the ever growing lean community and one that carries a passionate voice at times over which plan is better. This post is not intended to argue one way or the other, but instead point out both sides of the discussion and let you continue the conversation with your own insight.

The 6S

Proponents of a 6th S feel this is the best way to remind staff that a safe work environment is just as important as creating and maintaining a clean and orderly workplace. They feel that safety should always be on the forefront of daily activities and having a 6S over a 5S plan is essential to doing so. Another argument I have heard is that the 5S alone is a “fix it” only mindset. But by implementing a 6S plan, you move to a “solve and prevent it” mindset which helps continue a road to continuous improvement.

They feel that adding an extra S should not take much effort for an organization that already practices and maintains good 5S practices. The safety S meaning is to have respect for the workplace and employees within it. Those that advocate the 6S believe this is essential to incorporate into an employees daily routine, through visual aids (6S posters), meetings and guides.

Other benefits discussed on the pro-6S side of the discussion:

  • Development of new awareness and skills
  • Reminds employees to make their safety program apart of daily work
  • Encourages total employee involvement
  • Produces quicker results and boosts safety awareness of organization
  • Decreases accident and near miss incidents

The 5S

First and foremost, I’ve never come across any 6S opponent that didn’t believe safety wasn’t a top priority. However, they believe that by adding an extra S is confusing and not the right way to promote safety.

Mark Graban is a well renowned voice in the lean community and he too has weighed in on the discussion.

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.

5S Poster
5S Poster

-Mark Graban

Many feel adding the S takes away from the original idea of 5S. They don’t want a deterrent from their process of being lean, more efficient, more productive, and eliminating waste. Advocates for sticking to the 5S believe that an embedded 5S process is already promoting safety and the extra S is simply not needed. While others say that safety is to important to be grouped together with 5S.

Just a thought

Whether you’re a voice for 5S or 6S, chances are you are a step ahead of those who speak out against both.

I use the word “discussion” over “debate in the beginning of this post” because I don’t feel it should be debated over which one is best. It is a discussion that is healthy to the lean community and helps to continue the improvement culture we strive for. What your culture needs and is dependent upon is ultimately the key to your success in the lean process. Only you can determine which plan works best for your culture to succeed.

Ultimately, safety can’t get lost in the process, so if it helps to remind your staff by having 6S then by all means go for it. Many organizations have had success in implementing the 6S process and love to rave about it. Others do just fine by embedding safety into their lean culture and are just as successful with the standard 5S.

Moving Forward

As the lean community grows, new ideas and process will continue to sprout. There are now 7S programs which incorporates security. Many organizations are also finding success with this process as well. Someday I’m sure there will be an 8S, a 9S, and probably even a 10S.

But the point here is no matter how many S’s are on your poster, you are still apart of a growing and proven community. A community that represents a state of mind and ideologies that recognize and support any process improvement methodology. While also supporting a management system that helps companies reduce waste, improves efficiency, and keeps employee safety as a top priority.

What does your organization use? Feel free to continue the discussion in the comment section below and let us know what benefits you have noticed from either one.

Additional Resources