The 5S's are a continuous improvement methodology started in Japan after World War 2 and mastered by Toyota. When transliterated from the original Japanese, the 5S's stand for sorting, setting in order, shining, standardizing and sustaining the discipline.
The Red Tag Strategy is implemented in the first phase, or sorting phase, of any 5S implementation. Its effects are seen immediately throughout any facility with little or no cost, helping to improve reduce inventory, clerical efficiency and increase productivity throughout.
One reason this strategy is so important is that workers tend to "personalize" or get attached to tools and equipment. They often have a hard time determining what is necessary for the production cycle of the product and what is not. There is a natural tendency to want to keep tools and other equipment around "just in case".
Another reason is that some manufacturing facilities or plants have been around for a long time; some may be 100 years old or older. If there are several shifts working for many years, and many workers throughout that time, different people may hang on to different items. Accumulation can happen quickly; or slowly over a long time period of time, but it happens.
The Japanese word for "red" is "dirt." To remove dirt from a factory helps for several reasons (some obvious) but in this sense, it's for sorting and removal of unnecessary items. Red tags are easily noticed, like stop signs, and help employees realize just how much clutter can be accumulated and just how much space gets wasted over time.
Target places in the factory for this aspect of sorting include inventory, machinery and equipment and space in general such as floors and shelving. Establish a criterion prior to implementation of the process, and then fill out the tag properly for inventory purposes, or the item is simply thrown away.
Like spring and fall cleaning, a good Red Tag Strategy launches no less than twice a year, and the best implementation will be ongoing. The period lasts one to two months based on how many campaign projects have already been implemented. Red tags should be attached by workers outside of their normal departments, so they have a fresh eye to an area, and no personal ties to those specific tools and equipment.
For more information on the Red Tag Strategy and 5S in general, read the 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace, The Sourcebook for 5S Implementation by Hiroyuki Hirano.