Safety Is the Key to 6S


5S, the system of workplace standardization and organization which originated in Japan, has helped countless manufacturers reduce waste and optimize efficiency. Now, a sixth “S” is turning this lean initiative into a centerpiece of corporate culture, making it more about people than profit.

In a recent Quality Digest article, Professional Instructor and Lean Process Coach Jared Evans discussed how to build a culture around 6S by communicating with and involving personnel in the initiative so they know what’s in it for them from the very beginning. In this way, companies can prevent 6S from becoming the latest flavor-of-the-month workplace initiative.

What Is 6S?

If 6S sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Like 5S, the purpose of 6S is to create a clean and well-ordered workplace in order to minimize error and reduce waste. 6S is comprised of the same five elements as 5S with one key addition:

  • 1S: Sort
  • 2S: Set in Order
  • 3S: Shine and Inspect
  • 4S: Standardize
  • 5S: Sustain
  • 6S: Safety

The safety element is about creating an environment which promotes the physical and mental safety of employees, from providing personal protective equipment and following lockout/tagout protocols, to fostering teamwork and building trust through mentorship programs, quality circles and more.

In contrast to the original five elements which focus on the workplace and the equipment within it, safety revolves around people. In fact, safety is the second most basic human need, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This makes workers intrinsically more inclined to embrace and commit to the initiative.

Safety: The Missing Link to Lean Success

Most manufacturers know and enforce basic physical safety measures, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), job hazard analysis (JHA), reviewed and current standard operating procedures (SOPs), lockout/tagout (LOTO), Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), and safety signs and symbols.

In the context of lean 6S, safety refers to both physical and mental well-being. Workers who are empowered with the knowledge and equipment to perform their jobs safely will subconsciously feel safer, leading to increased engagement in their work and attentiveness to their tasks. Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that 6S and success sound exactly alike:

5S + Safety = 6S or “Success”

And it turns out, safety is not only the glue that holds the 6S program together, but it’s also critical to product quality.

The Relationship Between Safety and Quality

Though it may not seem obvious, there is a direct correlation between safety and quality.

A physical safety program prevents at-risk behaviors, injuries, missed workdays and even fatalities. A mental safety program prevents decreased motivation, morale, creativity and confidence; frustration, disengagement and reduced productivity; performance and attendance issues; and negative attrition.

Implementing a safety program according to 6S frees up employees’ time and energy to focus on their work, resulting in a more motivated and attentive workforce, less human error, fewer human-caused defects, and less overall scrap.

Leading Safety in Your Organization

Keep these guiding principles in mind when implementing and sustaining a successful 6S program:

  • Leaders set the tone; they drive safety.
  • Anyone, in any position, can be a leader.
  • Expertise in a discipline or business area does not automatically make someone a leader.
  • When people feel safe, they are more likely to work together to overcome a challenge or reach a goal.
  • The natural reaction of people who feel safe is to trust and cooperate.
  • There is a direct link between safety and quality.

Safety managers, lean coaches and quality managers alike should take a vested interest in implementing and sustaining a 6S program in their organizations. While it’s easy to think of 6S as boxes that need to be checked, a closer look reveals it can have meaningful effects beyond the obvious. When executed properly – with people in mind – the 6S initiative can be an instrument for real cultural change, leading to increased employee morale and performance, a reduction in human-caused defects, and a sustained improvement in quality.

Read the full article

2016-nl-bl-author-beth-pedersenBeth Pedersen is a content marketing specialist at the MasterControl headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her technical and marketing writing experience in the enterprise software space includes work for Microsoft, Novell, NetIQ, SUSE and Attachmate. She has a bachelor’s degree in life sciences communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in digital design and communication from the IT University of Copenhagen.

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