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What is 5S & 6S?

Welcome to Real kaizen’s, Kaizen Terminology Series.

Today’s term is 5S and 6S

This is a short video designed to provide an introduction to the “Term” only and should not be considered as a “how-to video”

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This video will help you understand what 5S and 6S are and as it relates to continuous improvement

It will explain the Roots of 5S and how it became known in industry

You will learn how and why 5S became 6S

You will see some examples of where 6S is used

You will be introduced to Realkaizen’s 6S Cycle

You will learn why Safety is now the driving factor in the 6S Program

We will finish with some Visual Examples of 6S in use today

5S and 6S are both a Workplace safety, organization and cleanliness methodology.

They are a series of steps or actions that are designed to improve safety of personnel, efficiencies of processes and machinery, employee morale and much more. The 6S methodology coincides with Kaizen processes by also providing a strong focus on the reduction of and elimination of Waste.

A 6S action can be implemented as either a stand-alone event where a team of people can attack a common problem area known for disorganized or dirty processes, machinery or areas.

Or, 6S can be used as one of the steps in a Kaizen Event. Using 6S as a part of a kaizen event is considered a common practice in most businesses today.

5S is generally understood to have its roots developed by the Japanese following the destruction of that country’s major manufacturing capabilities during WWII.


Japan’s adaptation of 5S began as an early form of workplace safety and efficiency with major emphasis on the reduction of scrap. Due mainly to their loss of major resources, including nearly 3 million people dead, and one quarter of their national wealth depleted, Japan was forced into the practice of redefining manufacturing and production. New management principles and technology advancements, combined with new trade agreements with the US and other countries, helped grow Japan’s economy to the point where they started to overtake major US corporations like Ford, General Motors and Dodge in the 1980’s.

The 5S Methodology has strong ties to other manufacturing methods such as Quality at the Source, Just-In-Time manufacturing, and Total Productive Maintenance. The Japanese Principles that lead to the 5S Process are defined by the actionable steps of:

1) Seiri – which means to clean-up based on each individual task at that step;

2) Seiton – which is organization, or “everything in its place”

3) Seiso – Total and thorough cleaning for safety and functionality

4) Seiketsu – A systematic approach to standardize by similar or uniform standards

5) Shitsuke – which is to achieve sustainment through safe practices

More recent translations and iterations of the 5S process have lead to additional tasks and redefining of the 5S Methodology that have added one additional action, Safety, for it to become known as the 6S Methodology.


As seen here, which includes the English translation, and thereby the 6S Methodology, consists of:


1 – Safety: First and always, Safety needs to be an all-encompassing and inherent system. If Safety is not driven from the Top-down, meaning not driven by the CEO or upper management, it must be installed step-by-step through Kaizen and 6S events over time. The only true way to effect a change in Safety in your environment is to change the culture of your organization one process, or one action at a time.

2 – Sort: By removing unwanted or unneeded items from the area, and then segregating and tagging them for later disposition. This means to set everything aside until the team can make a decision of whether these items should be scrapped or moved elsewhere.

3 – Set In Order: This part of the process deals with finding a location for an item and ensuring it stays in that location. This part of the process is defined by the common statement: “A place for everything, and everything in its place”

4 – Shine: This step involves the literal cleaning of the area. It is mop buckets, rags, gloves, cleaning solvents and brooms used to improve the look and feel of an area to promote the health and safety of employees and the functionality of equipment in the area.

5 – Standardize: This step includes defining all systems and processes used in the area and restructuring them based on similarities and uniformity in actions.

6 – Sustain: This final action in the 6S Process involves the development of clear actions written to promote time-compliance process steps to ensure 6S is maintained and audited for success over time. This is typically a management-driven action where scoring is made and competitions are often held monthly using a rewards-based system.

Uses of 6S are vast and have grown in many different industries over the past 20 years. The practice of 6S is now common in manufacturing and healthcare as the results often lead to fewer defects and higher morale. With its familiar expression, “A place for everything, and everything in its place”, 6S can apply just about anywhere in almost any industry.


As a Stand-alone process, 6S events can become a fundamental activity to help drive continuous improvement in an otherwise not-so-friendly environment that is reluctant to change. 6S can help change cultures and create involvement as other’s witnessing the events see the results and the benefits they bring to a work place.


As a part of a Kaizen Event, 6S has become a major building block by allowing cross-functional team members an opportunity to see first-hand how rapid changes can create positive outcomes. This helps gain early buy-in to the larger Kaizen Event and aids in driving overall success for all stakeholders.


In Factories, 6S helps drive Safety through basic common-sense steps that are sometimes missed in the bigger picture. Factories also recognize more orderly flow of raw materials and production. With its inherent Visual concepts and techniques designed to train people to label, color-code and position everything properly, 6S makes identification of items easy.
In Offices, 6S promotes cleanliness of not only bookshelves, desktops and common areas, but also electronic filing systems such as drawing management systems, databases and network storage. It is just as important that the information and materials in an office environment are as easy to locate and identify as they are made in the factory. For some businesses, providing the same standards to an office as they do to the factory seem unreasonable and therefore the same level of gains are not achieved.  

An easy way to remember 6S are in its Cycle of operations:

The REALKaizen Cycle wheel is outlined here and shows how the system works.

6S Safety and Lean Wheel

The REALKaizen 6S Safety Wheel

Each step has been previously explained but the graphic shows how Safety is located at the center of all improvement and is involved in every other step of the 6S process.

Over the past 30 years of outsourcing, companies have started to realize that the safety of their employees is the number one priority. In the small world we live in today, many global businesses have helped to drive positive changes in the overall approach to safety. Where safety standards have been historically low in some regions, these companies have demanded better quality of life for its employees and require their facilities in these regions to meet the same standards as those with higher standards. The result has been an overall improvement in how work standards and methods are developed even in low-cost countries.

Even smaller, family-owned businesses realize that taking care of their employees has not only positive effects on how their businesses are run, but also their bottom-line financial results. In the US, if an employee sustains an injury on the job, it can lead to “Lost-time”, or in the extreme, a potential lawsuit that could cost the company millions of dollars.


Safety in any environment is a CROSS-ROADS to ultimate success:  This means that every business today should strive for the common practice of always self-assessing their safety standards above anything else. To attain this level of commitment and responsibility, their employees should be following some simple guiding principles:


Before you do anything, turn statements like “This equipment SHOULD BE locked out” to “Our first step in making this change is to lock out all equipment in this area.”


Common practice for advancements in safety also include starting everything you do with a safety moment. This could be meetings, daily start-up, return from breaks, etc. Some companies have placed safety-related books and pamphlets out on tables and in meeting rooms that provide several safety-related topics to discuss. A simple 2-minute moment to stop and reflect on the actions of others or your own actions over the past 24 hours can have a dramatic effect on how things go over the next 24 hours.


Things to consider in these safety moments or at the beginning of a task include asking yourself some basic questions like 1) Should I walk over that pallet?, or 2) What will happen if I were to reach into that running machine? Asking questions of yourself before putting yourself into potentially harmful situations could mean the difference between going home in your own car or being picked up at the hospital.


Being Safe in any work environment needs to be an inherent BEHAVIOR by you first. Never ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself. You should constantly assess the health and safety of yourself and everyone around you. This includes not only your friends and your peers, but contractors that work on your site or in your factory, customers that be onsite for a visit, or anyone else that visits your facility or place of business. When it comes down to it, you are ultimately responsible for everyone’s safety.

Some examples of 6S shown here include floor marking tape and tags for tagging unneeded items; specialty markings for tool boxes and trash cans, labels for liquid bottles, footsteps that show walkways, and color-coded clearance and accessibility areas for emergency equipment like fire extinguishers and emergency exits.

This has been A Kaizen Terminology Series

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The 6S System

6S is designed to be a visual program where tools, material and inventory are all correctly identified and placed for optimum use and efficiency. 6S also helps to improve safety, quality, equipment life, employee morale, and more by reducing or eliminating wasted activities like searching for tools or parts, dealing with lost product, processing WIP, or underutilizing people. 6S is often used as a first step in the Lean transformation. Without experience, it is sometimes easier to attain major improvements with a 6S event than trying to tackle a complete Kaizen event.

Examples of 5S & 6S:5S Examples

5S Pictures