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Lean & Environment Toolkit: Chapter 5

6S (5S+Safety)

Introduction to 6S

This chapter focuses on making improvements to work areas using 6S, a variation of the 5S method. 6S can be a powerful way to reduce risks, improve waste management, and ensure that your facility is a safe and healthy place to work.

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Definition of 6S

Key Term6S is a method used to create and maintain a clean, orderly, and safe work environment. 6S is based upon the five pillars (5S) of the visual workplace in the Toyota Production System, plus a separate pillar for safety. 6S is often the first method companies implement in their Lean journey, since it serves as the foundation of future continual improvement efforts. More detailed information on 6S can be found in Appendix A.

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The Six Pillars of 6S

Key Term6S consists of six pillars:

  1. Sort (Get rid of it): Separate what is needed in the work area from what is not; eliminate the latter.
  2. Set in order (Organize): Organize what remains in the work area.
  3. Shine (Clean and solve): Clean and inspect the work area.
  4. Safety (Respect workplace and employee): Create a safe place to work.
  5. Standardize (Make consistent): Standardize cleaning, inspection, and safety practices.
  6. Sustain (Keep it up): Make 6S a way of life.

Key PointThe six pillars work together to support improvement efforts at your company. They help increase productivity, reduce defects, make accidents less likely, and reduce costs. 6S also fosters a culture of continual improvement and employee engagement that is essential for successful implementation of Lean. 6S often makes it easier to implement other Lean methods such as cellular manufacturing, one-piece flow, and just-in-time production.

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Case Study: Robins Air Force Base (Box 13)

The Six Pillars of 6S (Figure 12)

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What This Chapter Will Help You Do

Key PointEnvironmental wastes can be a symptom of a suboptimal system. 6S can help your company reduce waste and improve environmental performance leading to increased system productivity. You can also use 6S to minimize risks to the health of workers and the environment. Full implementation of 6S requires looking not only at the quantity, usefulness, and frequency with which an item is used in a work area, but also the risk or toxicity of the item. It also means paying close attention to what ends up in waste streams and how to manage those wastes.

Expanding the scope of 6S to include EHS concerns can help your company to:

  • Make defects less likely, so less energy and materials are wasted;
  • Reduce the chance that paint, solvent, or other chemicals expire or become off-specification before they can be used and then require disposal;
  • Save floor space, which makes it possible to save energy costs by consolidating operations and closing unneeded storage areas;
  • Avoid productivity losses from injuries and occupational health hazards by providing clean and accident-free work areas; and
  • Prevent environmental and occupational health and safety compliance issues by preventing or quickly correcting any spill or leaks.
To Consider
  • Name at least three ways your company could use 6S to improve its environmental performance and reduce wastes.
  • What metrics could you us to track environmental, health, and safety improvements from 6S activities?
  • What ideas do you have for improving your work area?

EHS issues are relevant to all six pillars of 6S. As a starting point, this toolkit describes how to:

  • Distinguish between hazardous and nonhazardous items in your work area during Sort—an initial step in 6S. Use yellow tags or other visual cues in red-tagging to identify EHS issues, harmful materials, and environmental wastes.
  • Incorporate questions about EHS issues into the inspection and evaluation activities that occur in the Shine and Sustain pillars. Inspect work areas in plant-wide and area-specific 6S inspections and audits to make sure that EHS concerns are managed properly.

Some additional ideas on how to incorporate EHS concerns into the 6S process are given in the box below.

6S Implementation Tips (Box 14)

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How to Identify EHS Issues during “Sort”

Overview of Yellow-Tagging

The objective of Sort is to identify items that are not needed in a work area and to get rid of them. This is done through a process called red-tagging. During a red-tagging project, you can examine your work area to identify any environmental, health, and safety issues at the same time, using yellow tags or other visual cues.

New ToolA yellow-tag strategy is a simple method of identifying environmental wastes and items that may be harmful to human health or the environment in the work area, evaluating the need for these items and potential alternatives, and addressing them appropriately. A yellow-tag strategy is designed to supplement a red-tag strategy. Yellow tags highlight EHS hazards or improvement opportunities.

How-to StepsThe basic steps in yellow-tagging are the same as in red-tagging, so you can implement them together or separately. The process can be divided into four steps:

  1. Identify yellow-tag targets and criteria.
  2. Make and attach yellow tags.
  3. Evaluate and take care of yellow-tagged items.
  4. Document the results.

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Step 1: Identify Yellow-Tag Targets and Criteria

Key PointAt the start of a yellow-tagging project, your team should identify two types of targets: (a) the physical areas where tagging will take place; and (b) the specific types of items you will evaluate. Involve EHS personnel in your yellow-tagging team to help you find additional wastes and opportunities for improvement.

Potential items to consider in yellow-tagging include:

  • EHS hazards in the workplace;
  • Chemicals and other hazardous materials; and
  • Environmental wastes.

After choosing targets, your team should agree on criteria for evaluating yellow-tagged items. You can continue to use red-tagging and your company’s red-tag criteria to determine whether an item is needed in the work area based on its usefulness for the work at hand, the frequency with which it is used, and the quantity that is needed. For yellow tags, you may want to use criteria related to the risk of an item, the availability of alternative materials or equipment, or to an opportunity for improved environmental performance.

Key PointYellow tags can serve as warning tags that alert workers about existing or potential hazards in the work area or that identify potential areas to target for improvement in the future. For example, a yellow tag on a chemical could cause you to ask whether a less toxic material could be used for the same purpose. Similarly, a yellow tag on an item in a red-tag holding area could indicate that the item needs to be treated differently for disposal or reuse because of its risk.

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Step 2: Make and Attach Yellow Tags

New ToolYellow tags could be as simple as yellow sticky notes stating the reason for the yellow tag, or they could also contain standard data that will allow your company to evaluate performance improvements from 6S and that will support your company’s overall materials tracking system. An example yellow tag is below.

Example Yellow Tag (Figure 13)
It is best to attach yellow tags to items during a short, focused event, to get a snapshot of the current state of the work area. Unless there is an immediate danger to people’s safety, do not spend time at this stage correcting issues or evaluating what to do with items. Instead, use the yellow tags to highlight potential EHS issues or opportunities in the target work area.

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Step 3: Evaluate and Take Care of Yellow-Tagged Items

The next step involves applying the criteria from Step 1 to determine what to do with yellow-tagged items.

  • If you found a safety, health, or environmental issue while yellow-tagging, such as a compliance violation or excess environmental waste, ask “why” five times to identify the root cause of it (see example below) and then ask “how” to address it.
  • If an item is both unnecessary (red-tagged) and hazardous (yellow-tagged), be sure to follow appropriate procedures for disposal of hazardous wastes.
  • If there are hazardous items remaining in a work area after doing Sort (items with a yellow tag but not a red tag), find out whether you can avoid the need to use those materials, or whether there is a less toxic alternative.

Asking Why Five Times (Box 15)

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 Step 4: Document Results

The final step in a yellow-tag strategy is to document necessary information from the yellow-tagging process in a log book or other tracking system your company uses. This should be done at the same time as you record data from red tags, ideally as part of the same system. This will allow you to track the improvements and savings that have resulted from your yellow-tagging efforts.

As with any Lean project, it is important to share your results with others, celebrate your success, and identify any follow-up items. Posting the results of yellow-tagging projects on activity boards can show others at your company what you have been able to achieve and can generate ideas for further improvement.

To Consider
  • Name three types of items and three locations that you could target for yellow-tagging at your company.
  • What criteria would you use for identifying issues?
  • Name three improvements or savings that would result from a yellow-tagging event at your company.

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How to Incorporate EHS into 6S Inspections

Eliminating Environmental Waste and Risk through 6S Inspections

Most companies who implement 6S seek to sustain the improvements made during initial 6S events. Shine activities often include daily cleaning and inspection by workers in their work area. Sustain activities often include weekly or other periodic audits to assess progress with 6S implementation.

Key PointRemember that what gets measured gets managed. By explicitly incorporating EHS items into 6S inspections and audits, you can eliminate more waste and risk from each work area. 6S inspections and audits can also reinforce workers’ awareness of important tasks and issues that affect worker health and safety and environmental performance. For companies implementing an environmental management system (such as an ISO 14001-type EMS), 6S inspections and audits create valuable opportunities to regularly ensure that EHS procedures are followed on the shop floor.

Plant-Wide 6S Inspection Checklists and Audit Questions

Inspection checklists and audit questions are powerful tools to sustain 6S improvements and to prompt the identification of new improvement opportunities.

New ToolThe list of 6S Inspection and Audit Questions below contains questions used by some companies to ensure that environmental wastes and risk are routinely identified, properly managed, and eliminated where possible.

6S Inspection and Audit Questions for Eliminating Environmental Waste and Risk (Box 16)

These questions can be adapted to work in a variety of 6S implementation assessment tools, particularly where a common system is used to assess 6S implementation across many work areas. Your company may use a simplified rating system to assess 6S implementation progress, such as a 0–5 rating for each 6S pillar. In this case, these questions can be used to train 6S inspectors and auditors, or to provide background information for a broader rating category or question that focuses on overall efforts to address EHS issues and opportunities in a work area.

New ToolSome organizations have developed detailed audit checklists that include, or focus exclusively on, environmental and safety issues. Appendix E includes a sample 6S Audit Checklist that was developed by a company to focus on safety issues.

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Shine Checklists for Specific Work Areas

Key PointWhen developing Shine cleaning and inspection checklists for a work area, it will often be useful to develop additional questions that are tailored to address specific materials, equipment, and/or work practices in that work area. EHS personnel can help to develop specific checklist items and questions that can integrate EHS management procedures and waste identification opportunities into Shine inspections for pollution control equipment, hazardous chemicals, and other aspects of a work area that could pose health or safety hazards to workers.

To Consider
  • How well do 6S inspections and audits assess EHS activities and performance in your company?
  • What approach might be most appropriate for incorporating EHS considerations into 6S assessment tools in your company?

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6S is modeled after the 5S system designed to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining a clean, orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. 6S uses the 5S pillars with an additional pillar for safety. The six pillars of 6S are:

  • Sort (Get rid of it);
  • Set in order (Organize);
  • Shine (Clean and solve);
  • Safety (Respect workplace and employee);
  • Standardize (Make consistent); and
  • Sustain (Keep it up).

The pillars work together to increase productivity, reduce defects, make accidents less likely, save time, and reduce costs. When expanded to include EHS issues, they can also help reduce hazards and improve environmental performance.

The following four steps provide an example of how EHS issues can be identified and addressed through 6S using yellow tags along with red tags in the Sort process. The objective of this strategy is to identify environmental wastes in the work area with a yellow tag, evaluate their need and potential alternatives, and address them accordingly.

  1. Identify yellow-tag targets such as EHS hazards, chemicals and other hazardous materials, and environmental wastes. Also, agree on criteria for evaluating yellow-tagged items.
  2. Make and attach yellow tags to identified items and include data to allow for evaluation of performance improvements.
  3. Evaluate and address yellow-tagged items.
  4. Document results.

By explicitly incorporating EHS issues into all six pillars during 6S inspections, you can eliminate more waste and risk. Inspection checklists and audit questions are powerful tools to sustain 6S improvements and to prompt identification of new improvement opportunities.

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Your Thoughts
Now that you have finished this chapter, reflect on what you read by answering these questions:
  • What did you learn in this chapter that was particularly useful?
  • Do you need any more information to fully understand how to integrate EHS considerations into 6S? Would any other tools be helpful?
  • What other ideas do you have to improve the environmental performance of your company with 6S?

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Toolkit Navigation

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