5S Principles and Woodshop Safety

Should safety have its own “S” in 5S? Should it really be “6S?” The question always comes up as woodworkers learn to apply the principles of 5S to their shops.

A growing community of woodworkers has been adapting the principles of 5S and Lean manufacturing to their shops. They are learning how to easily implement Sort, Set In Order, Sparkle, Standardize, and Sustain to make their shops feel more spacious, allow them more time for woodworking, save money, improve the quality of their work, and make their shop time more enjoyable. In every class, though, the question comes up… should there be a sixth “S” for Safety?

Some of the thousands of successful manufacturers that have adopted 5S as a way of life think so and rename their 5S initiatives “6S.” Some get cute and call it “5S + 1.” I disagree with the premise. Safety is not a separate initiative and should not be tacked on like an afterthought. Woodshop safety is, instead, a deeply ingrained way of “5S life” and will become a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

When I talk with a group of woodworkers about the adaptation of 5S to the workshop our class time is like an inverted pyramid. “Sort” is the toughest part; it requires the most effort and can be very emotional, thus takes the most class time. But once woodworkers stawoodshop safetyrt to “Sort” their often used, seldom used, and never used tools and supplies and experience the profound benefits, each successive step in 5S implementation becomes easier, more intuitive, and takes much less time. By the time we get to the fifth “S,” Sustain, there is very little to cover in the class. No woodworker would ever want to revert to his/her old messy, inefficient ways and sustaining the new order becomes… you guessed it… a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Safety is naturally embedded in and embellished by all that we do in 5S. The first “S” is Sort and it involves (among other things) clearing out unused tools, parts, and supplies. In addition to freeing up space, reducing clutter, distraction, and frustration are predictable results. How many accidents have happened in the shop because someone was distracted and not concentrating fully on the task at hand? Safety is enhanced.

Set In Order, the second “S,” is a methodology for the logical placement of tools and supplies and stresses the importance of putting things back in place when the work is done. When tools and supplies are properly stowed, it is highly unlikely you will trip over a misplaced tool, knock something off a table, or inadvertently push something into a spinning blade. Safety is enhanced by the Set In Order process. Strategies and techniques for keeping the workshop clean is the third “S.” We use the word “Sparkle.” Any safety professional will tell you that accidents are less likely to occur in a clean shop.

Safety is woven into the very fabric of 5S. Every “S” in the process not only frees up space and makes your shop time more efficient and enjoyable, but also enhances your personal safety. No need to add a sixth “S” to 5S… safety is already there… five times!

Want to learn more about using 5S to enhance your shop time, make more space, and work more safely? Sign up for Steve Johnson’s Popular Woodworking University course, More Space and Time in Your Shop.

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Steve Johnson

About Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson is a full time life-long hobbyist woodworker committed to helping new and experienced woodworkers achieve the “shop of their dreams” – even if (especially if?) they don’t have a dream budget to work with. Steve is a retired businessman, and in his career relocated many times… He has had shops in basements, one- and two-car garages, barns, outbuildings, and once in the back of a semi-trailer. Now with a permanent shop and a little more shop time, he produces articles and videos to share his knowledge and experiences with other woodworkers. His videos can be seen at “DownToEarthWoodworks” on YouTube and his articles appear monthly in Highland Woodworking’s online newsletter.