Have you ever misplaced something and torn your workspace apart, attempting to find it? Many of us have been relieved to discover the missing item was “right where we left it” — but at what cost of time and energy expenditure?

5S is a system of organization designed to prevent items, tools and equipment from being lost or misplaced. It focuses on prevention to achieve a workplace that is more efficient, effective and organized.

The concept of 5S originated with the Japanese. The “5” refers to five Japanese words that begin with the letter “S” when translated into English. There are many definitions (some available in great depth); below is a basic, layman’s description for each step.

• Sort: Determine what is appropriate or necessary, and discard everything that is not.

• Set in Order: Organize and arrange the appropriate items so that they are easy to access, use and return to their proper place.

• Shine: Keep the work area clean for safety, maintenance and inspection.

• Standardize: Apply the first three steps to achieve a standardized work area.

• Sustain: Put procedures in place to ensure the continuation of correct practices.

Safety is sometimes included as the sixth “S,” but whether intentionally incorporated or not, the natural conclusion of a 5S workplace is a safe, productive environment.

Fostering a safe work culture

Most people take safety for granted until something goes wrong, but the beauty of 5S programs is that they proactively identify and resolve potential safety hazards.

According to OSHA, some of the most common industrial accidents involve slips, trips and falls — resulting in 15 percent of all accidental deaths. This statistic seems nonsensical, and yet simple 5S solutions could help prevent some of these accidents.

• Are slippery/wet surfaces identified with visual warning signs — such as temporary, fold-up signs or other floor signs?

• Is equipment properly stored, or is it left in walkways, becoming a potential tripping hazard?

• Does marking tape identify the correct placement for pallets and other facility storage, or are aisles crowded and disorganized?

Simple 5S practices and identification products — like floor tape and fold-up signs — can make all the difference to prevent commonplace accidents and injuries.

5S programs also go a step beyond safety to underscore personal accountability. For example, when employees know that they must return tools and equipment to visual, designated storage places, they know that their supervisors — at a glance — can see if these items have been returned properly.

The end result is a more productive workplace and a more accountable workforce.

Finding visual solutions

The act of identifying problem areas is a visual exercise, so the solution needs to incorporate a visual improvement or result. Proper labeling, designated storage spaces, and communication centers are just a few ways to incorporate 5S practices into the workplace.

Product solutions abound to assist with implementation. These can range from equipment shadow boards to dry-erase centers that track key performance indicators (KPIs). Employers must first define their facility objectives, identify problem areas, and then invest in products and practices that will promote overall efficiency.

Companies that care

5S is not designed for an elite few but for ordinary, everyday companies that want to improve their efficiency and productivity levels. Through 5S programs, employers show employees that their jobs matter and encourage company-wide participation.

When a company makes an investment in a 5S system, employees take notice. It shows that the company is committed to the initiative and wants to do their part to help their employees achieve this goal by working together.