What is 6S Lean?

Learn about the importance of implementing 6S Lean in the workplace

Published May 5th, 2021

6S Lean: 5S + Safety

6S (otherwise known as 5S + Safety) is a system that aims to promote and sustain a high level of productivity and safety throughout a workspace. While adhering to the 5S principle of Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, the 6S method adds the concept of Safety. 6 S lean not only helps organizations promote efficient working environments but also establishes a sustainable culture of safety.

The 6 S’s in 6S Lean

What are the components of the 6s lean methodology and what are their importance in the overall system? Let us walk through each of the 6 S.

6s 6 s lean infographic 5s + 1

  1. Sort (Seiri) 

    Sorting, the first step in the 6s methodology, aims to reduce clutter and make it easier for essential work items to be easily located for improved efficiency. “Red tagging” is often done to mark unnecessary items for immediate disposal, while “yellow tagging” can be applied for those items that can be temporarily kept off-site for future use.

  2. Set in order (Seiton) 

    In this stage of the 6 S system,  items, equipment, and work materials tagged as essential in the first stage should be placed in an organized manner in the most logical locations. The objective of ‘Set in Order’ (or ‘Straighten’) is to establish a systematic way of storing and retrieving items, thus helping maximize accessibility and space.

  3. Shine (Seiso) 

    After non-essential items have been removed and essential items have been organized, the next step is cleansing. The third stage of the 6s lean system, also known as ‘Shine’, includes activities, such as cleaning the workplace, maintaining its pleasant appearance, and using preventive steps to keep workspaces tidy and clean. The objective is to create an environment that prevents injuries and products from being stained due to uncleanliness.

  4. Standardize (Seiketsu)

    ‘Standardize’ is the fourth 6s method stage that aims to establish a new workplace norm by identifying best practices and creating consistent procedures for the first three stages. It aims to help people have the same work routines in their processes and develop more efficient habits.  This can be done by providing visual reminders, setting expectations of workers’ responsibility, and conducting routine inspections and regular site checks.

  5. Sustain (Shitsuke)

    This is the most challenging step of the 6S method as the goal is to ensure that standardized procedures are applied continually over a long period of time until it becomes second nature in day-to-day work.

  6. Safety

    Lastly, 6S lean features Safety as the final step added to the standard 5S methodology many have been used to. This essential step of 6 S focuses on identifying hazards and setting preventive controls to keep workers safe during work operations, and ensure that the work environment meet required safety standards. 

Why Include Safety in 6S?

We know that Safety is the topmost priority in every workplace. Having a safe and clean working environment helps: 

  • Create a positive impact on productivity and quality; 
  • encourage a stress-free and healthy atmosphere where workers can feel safe and secure; and
  • make it easy to recognize potential hazards and install safety controls. 

Some believe that Safety is already integral to the classic 5S methodology; why then should it be incorporated as a separate step?

One reason lean improvement professionals say is that adding Safety helps provide further focus on safety issues, especially for industries that involve high-risk jobs, such as construction and food manufacturing. The extra attention given can help ensure that no hazardous items or conditions are overlooked after going through the five stages of 6s lean.

Further, having Safety as part of the 6S system can help an organization to:

  •  Be more prudent on expending energy, materials, and other resources;
  •  Avoid productivity losses from injuries and occupational health hazards by providing clean and accident-free work areas; and
  •  Meet or exceed environmental performance and waste reduction goals

What is 6S Manufacturing?

6S manufacturing is an approach to production processes that integrates the 5S principles with safety. It helps implement methodologies to solve critical manufacturing issues. For example, operators who practice 6S in manufacturing and implement lean programs support the safety of their employees including the working environment and operational equipment to improve efficiency on the factory floor.

Safety in manufacturing plays an essential role in determining overall employee productivity. Conducting 6S audits and implementing lean programs can help manufacturing industries to achieve the following:

  • advanced waste management and cost reduction;
  • reduced machine breakdowns;
  • high-quality products; and
  • effective employee onboarding and training programs.

How To Fulfill the Safety Step of 6 S

The first step to safety is identifying existing hazards and those which are likely to be present in the workplace. All employees must be aware of the different types of workplace hazards and evaluate these hazards through risk assessments or a Job Safety Analysis (JSA). These prerequisite methods carry out standard safety procedures and necessary controls to reduce or eliminate these hazards.

Workers should also wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as an additional protection to hazards which are difficult to control or can not be eliminated. PPE includes hard hats, safety goggles, face masks, insulated gloves, slip-resistant boots, and a lot more. The use of PPE must be checked and other safety protocols must be disseminated to all workers through training and toolbox meetings.

Achieving 100% safety is never an easy task, but through incorporating safety to the original 5S method—and kaizen, you can help improve working conditions in your organization. Workers can not only focus on completing tasks for the day but can also habitually contribute to the overall workplace safety.

5S vs 6S Methodology: Which system is right for your organization?

When deciding whether to implement 6s or 5s for your team or company, it is best to assess which one will best meet your needs. 

In workplace settings which are significantly more hazardous, it makes more sense to take the extra step and choose 6 S. This helps  establish Safety as a crucial focal point of the organization and that there are specific Safety KPIs to be taken into account to measure improvement efforts. 

Meanwhile, in workplace environments where there are very few significant safety risks, the 6th S may be considered unnecessary. In fact, having a 6th S in otherwise very safe environments could be seen as wasteful. When following 6S it is necessary to take the time to evaluate how different activities will impact the safety of the facility.

Whether you will implement 5S or 6S, organizations must remember that safety shall always be a priority. It is just a matter of choosing the right lean management strategy that will help meet your needs will while also ensuring that employees remain efficient with their work.

Implement and Audit 6S in your Workplace

Make your workplace clean and safe! Do it the 6S way! Get started by downloading these free 5S and 6S use cases for the iAuditor mobile app.

Use iAuditor the world’s #1 Inspection App for your 6S Audits

iAuditor gives you the flexibility to power any inspection you require – onsite, underground, and across the globe. Inspect construction sites, restaurants inspections for food safety, conduct temperature checks, pre-flight checks, toolbox talks and more. It is the mobile forms inspection solution for all industries.


Shine Colcol

SafetyCulture Staff Writer

Shine has been professionally writing about virtually anything since her internship for a digital publisher of niche blogazines. She is passionate about building a culture of continuous improvement in the environmental, health, safety, and quality space through well-researched, engaging, and impactful content.