Audits, Occupational Safety

5S audit: Improving safety

A step-by-step guide with valuable tips and a checklist to create your 5S audit template

10 minutes02/07/2023

Give me five for safety! The 5S method is a straightforward tool that OHS managers and safety specialists can use to optimize workplaces and production operations in just five phases. The result? Greater awareness, improved safety, and higher quality. The 5S method keeps the topic of occupational health and safety at the front of employee’s minds. 

This Lean Management approach has its origins in Japan. The 5S audit became renowned through its use by Toyota, which systematically applies the method in its workspaces and production operations. By conducting regular 5S audits in the workplace, you can encourage everyone in your company to embody and repeat the 5S method so that, after just a short time, they apply it automatically and independently. The same applies to 5S audits in production areas. 

In this article, we take a detailed look at the individual phases of the 5S method and provide an overview of the individual steps and resulting improvements, along with a checklist of specific points to help you draw up your audit questionnaire. We also cover how often managers and safety professionals should carry out 5S audits and how this method is related to Lean Management, Kaizen, and the PDCA cycle in ISO-certified management systems.  

The phases of the 5S method

The 5S method takes its name from five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke, which can be translated as sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain.

Sort (seiri)

The first phase of the 5S audit involves creating an overview of the current situation on site. Which objects and tasks are necessary? Which are unnecessary and could be removed? Working together with employees, you can sort what is useful from what is unnecessary. Which aspects are essential and frequently used? What do we use less frequently? What could we do without? 

Not every object and task can be definitively categorized as useful or superfluous. Put a question mark next to anything debatable. If that item or process is not used over the next few days or weeks, you can then classify it as unnecessary. 

Employees actively engage with individual elements of their workplace or the production facilities. Not only does sorting free up space and provide a better overview, but it also helps raise awareness, leading to a definite boost for safety.


Set in order (seiton)

In the second step of the 5S audit, you remove objects and tasks that are superfluous or rarely used. You then apply systematic organization to bring order to the useful elements. This means assigning everything a fixed location and keeping it there.

Discuss with your employees which items they use, at what times, and how often. You can then incorporate these insights into your system organization.  

Implementing a systematic approach simplifies and accelerates workplace processes. The system minimizes the potential for frustration as employees can rely on having all the resources they need ready at hand. Removing superfluous elements eliminates distractions, so employees stay focused. At the same time, systematic organization minimizes potential safety risks and improves safety in the workplace.


Shine (seiso)

This stage of the 5S audits aims to make individual objects and processes shine. In other words, it is time to clean up! You and your employees clean individual tools and tidy up different areas of their workspace.

Each time, analyze what has made the space dirty. How can this accumulation of dirt be prevented in future? Does the systematic organization need to be adjusted or adapted? Or does it require more extensive changes to eliminate any dirt more quickly and easily in future? 

Cleanliness creates a pleasant atmosphere in the workplace and is crucial to employees’ health and wellbeing. The result? Improved motivation, higher productivity and less stress. Regularly cleaning workspaces can also uncover unforeseen potential for improvement.

Standardize (seiketsu)

In this step of the 5S audit, you create a universally applicable standard for a process in the workplace or in production. This means that a given process is executed in exactly the same way, in line with exactly the same requirements, throughout the company. Take product assembly, for example: Employees carry out clearly defined work steps and always have a clearly defined number of the required components and tools at hand. They also systematically apply the specified safety measures. 

Work with employees to draw up clear rules that create a standardized procedure for each process. For example: A workbench should always have exactly one container filled with nuts and bolts. Employees ensure this by constantly refilling the container as required.  

This step in the 5S method allows you to create a universal standard for efficiency and safety. This standard can be easily reproduced and optimizes performance. If your employees perform a task using exactly the same safe, efficient method every single time, this will make it easier to identify and correct any deviations. You can also identify and exploit potential for optimization more effectively – especially in relation to occupational safety. 


Sustain (shitsuke)

The final stage in a 5S audit is the centerpiece of the 5S method. It is all about examining whether the rules you developed are actually being applied. Do processes comply with requirements? Have employees internalized procedures? And, above all: Is there any further room for improvement? At this phase of the 5S method, your aim is to avoid resting on your laurels and reveling in past success. Instead, you should be asking yourself if there is any way you could improve safety even further. 
Ultimately, this phase of the 5S audit never ends.

Strive to initiate a dialogue with employees as part of the 5S audit. Have they realized that there are other ways of doing things? Is there anything bothering them? Have they identified areas that could be improved? Do they have ideas for specific developments? The 5S method expressly encourages discussion of these aspects.

Continuous improvement and better occupational safety. Constantly searching for potential optimizations keeps the topic of occupational safety at the top of the agenda. Or to be more precise: Despite standardized processes, employees avoid slipping into routines and instead remain aware and vigilant. 


How to create and optimize your 5S audit

Are you planning on conducting your first 5S audit? Maybe you have already carried an audit out and would like to optimize your list of questions? We have put together some valuable tips to help you create and optimize your audit template.

Checklist: 5S audit template

  • Select the format

    Choose either a general list containing all important points or divide your workspace into smaller areas.

  • Integrate your colleagues

    Gather ideas for your audit list by speaking to your colleagues, other people in the company, and other stakeholders (e.g., software providers). Get a range of people involved from the outset.

  • Prioritize

    When you start drawing up your audit template, start with the most important and challenging elements of the 5S. If, for example, “Shine” – keeping things clean and tidy – is the most important topic for you, start by adding questions related to this aspect.

  • Keep it short and sweet

    Make sure your audit list is concise and straightforward. As a rule of thumb, you should set a limit of 15 questions.

  • Avoid complexity

    Make the questions as direct and easy to understand as possible. If you need to give more complex instructions, provide this in a separate document or, if you are using software, hide the instructions in collapsible tabs in the interface.

  • Proof is in the pudding

    Try it out. Do not waste time fine-tuning the list – start using it and make continuous improvements where and when necessary.

How often should you carry out 5S audits?

The audit frequency depends to a large extent on the specific circumstances in your company:

  • Number of employees; complexity of tasks
  • Type of workplaces
  • Scale of production activities
  • Potential hazards

The first 5S audits you conduct will be more comprehensive and take a certain amount of time. This is due in particular to the time required to categorize items into two groups: necessary and unnecessary. The whole process becomes easier once that task is complete, because your primary focus then shifts onto examining whether your employees are actually practicing the 5S rules you developed. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to conduct one 5S audit per month. A digital OHS tool can be extremely helpful.

Good to know: 
Carrying out 5S audits on an ongoing basis encourages your employees to regularly prepare for the audits. This helps the 5S method become ingrained in their daily work. And, after a period of time, the many benefits of the 5S method will develop on their own.

The 5S method in Lean Management

Lean Management is an approach that aims to organize processes more efficiently. 
Lean Management methods include Kaizen, also known as continuous improvement, which has become rooted in many standardized management systems in the form of the PDCA (Plan – Check – Do – Act) cycle.


The name Kaizen is a compound of two Japanese words: “kai-,” which means “improvement,” and “-zen,” which means “change for the better.” The 5S method is derived from the Kaizen concept and touches on various elements in a slightly different way. The centerpiece of the 5S method, “Sustain” (shitsuke) is taken directly from the Kaizen concept.

Kaizen in the Plan – Do – Check – Act cycle

The ten steps in the Kaizen method (as implemented by Toyota) can be easily assigned to the PDCA cycle.

1. Define and clarify the problem
2. Document the current situation
3. Visualize the ideal situation
4. Determine targets
5. Develop an implementation strategy
6. Draw up a plan – what, who, and when

7. Implement plan

8. Evaluate its effectiveness

9. Document your work
10. Confirm the results


It is clear that companies that implement the 5S method in their daily operations improve occupational safety, increase employee awareness, and support a continuous improvement process. A particularly important part of the 5S method is ensuring that all employees are involved. This increases the focus on occupational safety.