Implementing 5S in the Laboratory


5S is a visual management tool and a structured methodology in creating best practice, clean, organised and efficient working environment. 5S can assist with the elimination of frustration, confusion, Stress, space limitation and inventory management. 5S is a great way to manage your laboratory.

Being organised is about working smarter not harder and helps to create a safer workplace, reduce processing time, improve communication, eliminate errors, utilise space effectively and improve morale.

The 5S Steps

  1. Sort – Determine what is needed and what is not needed.
  2. Set in Order – “A place for everything and everything in its place” – Control at glance.
  3. Shine – Structured cleaning roster performed routinely
  4. Standardise – Repeatability of prior steps. Determine best practise and make standard.
  5. Sustain – Create a culture of care, group effort, ideas and suggestions of continues improvement across the company.

STEP 1 – Sort Your Laboratory

The sort is based on removing unnecessary items and disposing of them correctly. Eliminate obstacles and you will reduce the chance of being disturbed by unnecessary items in the laboratory. This phase will also help prevent the accumulation of unnecessary items and assist in the assessment of necessary items such as debt, cost etc…

Some key steps that will assist with the sorting phase are:

  • Establish a white tag area (Holding Area non-required items)
  • Identify the items that are not required at the current location.
  • Get team members on board to assist with the evaluation process.
  • Dispose of items not required after team approval.

STEP 2 – Set Your Laboratory in Order

This step will assist in the arrangement of all necessary items in order so they can be easily picked up for use. It will prevent loss of downtime and will make it easy to find and identify the necessary tools, equipment, and supplies. You will need to identify sources of waste and rearrange items.

Key steps to help you Set in order:

  • Make sure all items have a home using signs, labels and shadow boards.
  • Clearly define work areas. Use floor marking, pedestrian aisles, clear access and process flow.
  • Use indicators for high or low inventory levels. Read more about Kanban.
  • Consider colour coded inventory bins to improve visual management.
  • Identify equipment and consumables used Daily, Weekly and Monthly and locate according to usage.

STEP 3 – Make Your Laboratory Shine!

Thoroughly cleaning your work areas in the laboratory can keep your lab area safe from hazards and clutter which can result in inefficiencies. Getting in the habit of cleaning and inspecting your laboratory workspace you will be able to identify leaks, spills, potential contamination, or any other minor problems that could evolve into larger problems down the track.

Key steps to assist you with the “Shine” process.

  • Clean thoroughly – Make it literally shine!
  • Identify responsibilities.
  • Look at the frequency of cleaning requirements in the division of the laboratory.
  • Make a list of items that need routine cleaning to assist with the standardisation step.

STEP 4 – Standardise in Your Laboratory

The purpose of standardisation is to ensure that the 5S steps are performed to a common standard. This is where you or your team will develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) which help in the on-boarding of new employees and save time for routine tasks as well as improving overall efficiency. You will also want to document equipment and processes while developing an audit schedule and assigning specific tasks to staff members.

Key steps to standardisation:

  • Develop Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
  • Document equipment and processes.
  • Develop an audit schedule and assign tasks to individual

STEP 5 – Make Your Program Sustainable.

The Sustain step is the most challenging and difficult stage for most organisations. This portion of the 5S will have the highest level of variability since every laboratory is different. It is important to define your measures of performance (MOPs) early, doing so will allow you to begin tracking your results immediately. This step may be the most trying of phases, it is also the one with the largest payoff! You will want to regularly communicate and train employees to adopt the 5S methodology and follow to the 5 phases to keep your lab running efficiently and professionally.

Key actions for sustainability:

  • Sort, separate what is unnecessary
  • Set in Order, organise
  • Shine, clean up and make it shine!
  • Standardise, establish standard operating procedures
  • Sustain, develop long-lasting habits


The 5S area of lean methodology is a very powerful tool when your full team is on board. Every laboratory differs and you will have to adapt 5S to work with your facility. Remember, driving lean improvements can seem challenging at times, but when you utilise the proper tools, approach, and support, you can make a difference in your laboratory.


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