A primer on the 5S’s

As we’ve written about in the past, 5S is one of the cornerstone practices of lean manufacturing. It is often used as a systematic framework for workspace organization based on the idea that a better work environment results in better operations, which in turn leads to better products.

The 5S framework, developed and popularized in Japan, provides five key steps for maintaining an efficient workspace in order to improve the quality of products. In Japanese, these steps are known as seiri (Sort), seiton (Set in order), seiso (Shine), seiketsu (Standardize), and shitsuke (Sustain). In North American manufacturing environments, these 5S’s are broken down as follows:

  • Sort - Sort through all tools, equipment, furniture, etc. in an area and determine what should be kept and what should be removed

  • Set in order - Organize remaining items and determine how they will be stored

  • Shine - Proactively clean work areas and perform maintenance on equipment on a regular basis

  • Standardize - Create a standardized operating procedure for 5S tasks

  • Sustain - Keep your 5S system running smoothly by maintaining the procedures you’ve developed and updating them if necessary

What is a 5S audit?

In the world of manufacturing, businesses are often looking for ways to reduce errors and increase productivity. This 5S audit provides a framework for performing a comprehensive analysis of your work processes and your ability to produce a quality product. By going through a 5S audit, companies have been able to reduce defects, meaning fewer errors, fewer returns, and fewer complaints from customers.

A 5S audit is not simply a visual inspection of your facilities. A 5S audit is a systematic check of your work environment with the goal of identifying opportunities for improvement. A 5S audit identifies how well you are implementing Kaizen (continuous improvement) on the shop floor.

Conducting a 5s audit involves evaluating current work conditions and making changes to improve the workplace. The result is an organized, clean, and efficient work environment.

Finally, 5S audits are used to support the implementation of standard work. It’s important to note—the audit was not developed for the purpose of making recommendations. It is simply an analysis of the standards and suggestions outlined by supervisors at a given manufacturing site.


Benefits of conducting a 5s audit

Now that we've reviewed 5s audits at a high level, let's dive into some of the benefits of incorporating 5s into your operations.

Some of the key benefits to 5s audits are as follows:

  • Reduction in space needed for storage - Removing unwanted and unorganized items from the work space not only reduces unneeded clutter on the shop floor, but also creates more space for value-added work.
  • Improved maintenance processes - By following daily processes for cleaning and fixing machines and equipment within your facility, maintenance activities become simpler and more streamlined and breakdowns become less common.
  • Improved safety - The process of cleaning and organizing a work space inherently reduces the potential for safety incidents within the work environment.
  • Increased employee morale - When employees are bought into the 5s audit process, they demonstrate a higher commitment to the values that 5s outlines. This ensures that everyone across the org does their part to maintain a clean, organized, and efficient work space.

Using a 5S checklist to streamline your audits

After the initial implementation of 5S, companies often develop checklists of things they need to check to ensure standards and suggestions are being followed. These checklists are called 5S Checklists.

While maintaining top-notch safety standards in a work environment can be an ongoing challenge for manufacturers, streamlining the process with a 5S checklist can make it easier and more efficient to stay up to date on your safety measures.

It’s important to note that no two 5S audits are the same. This is why checklists can be a handy tool to help guide operators from task to task without missing any steps along the way.

24 sample questions to use in your 5S audit


1. Are there any unneeded materials or parts around?

2. Are there any unused machines or other equipment (jigs, tools, pallets, dies, or similar items) around?

3. Are the vital controls clear and definitive enough to see when something is out of place?

4. Only documents to the job are stored at the work zone. Are these documents stored nicely and visible?

Set in order

5. Are shelves and other storage areas marked with location indicators?

6. Is everything in its home with exception of things currently being used for the job?

7. Are the machines wiped clean often and kept free of shavings, fibers, and oil?

8. Are maximum and minimum allowable quantities indicated (Kanban)?

9. Are lines or markers used to clearly indicate walkway and storage areas?


10. Are floors kept shiny, clean, and free of waste, dust, and/or oil?

11. Are the machines wiped clean often and kept free of waste, dust, and/or oil?

12. Is there a cleaning checklist being followed that is effective?

13. Is it clear (understood and communicated) who is responsible for cleaning?

14. Do workers habitually clean their workstations without being told (sweep floors, wipe equipment, etc)?


15. Are standard procedures clear, documented, and actively used?

16. Was the 5S audit completed for this area last month?

17. Was the 5S audit completed for this area the month before last?

18. Are improvement memos/newspaper memos regularly being generated?

19. Were the improvement ideas from the last audit acted upon?

20. Are standards used uniformly across the area?

21. Are the first three S’s (Sort, Set Location, and Shine) being maintained?


22. Is everybody adequately trained in 5S?

23. Are procedures updated and regularly reviewed?

24. Are audit results and findings communicated adequately to everyone?

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Learn how you can unlock real-time continuous improvement with Tulip's 5S Audit Checklist.

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