5S plus 1 applied in Africa

My first impression when I joined “Kasaana paper beads” factory was how unsafe the workplace appeared to be. Women work in a pretty dark place, seated on the ground and always bended. What is the impact for their health? I tried to address these issues, but they told me they are really comfortable like this and didn’t like my ergonomic improvement ideas. 

Okay. Fair enough. Maybe not everything should work the same way as in our Western world thus I gave up on this. But…when I saw a little baby playing with sharp scissors, I brought back my passion for safety.

After a few weeks working with the Kasaana women, I collected some improvement ideas not only on safety. This time my LEAN eyes and heart felt like implementing 5S + 1. 

It’s another fancy acronym which originates from Toyota’s manufacturing system. Basically it’s a system which aims to provide an efficient working environment with a sustainable culture for safety. 6S stands for Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain and Safety.

Let’s take a look how we implemented 6S in “Kasaana paper beads” factory during my volunteering/ experteering time in rural Uganda.

A visual sample which shows how a good bead looks like.

Sort (Seiri)

It’s when you remove parts and equipment which are not needed in your working environment. Why should you have things around you which you don’t use? For example, we removed the colour paints which we don’t use anymore, as we started to focus solely on natural paper colours. We even had one incident where we mixed up the bottles, so instead of using transparent varnish, we coloured the beads in red.

We also removed other tools, such as palm leaves material, glass beads and magazine paper because we don’t use it on a daily basis. 

A well sorted workplace removes the buzz from the worker and makes it way easier to pick up parts and avoid mistakes. 

Set in order (Seiton)

It’s one of my favourite tools, where equipment and the whole workplace gets organized in a way that everything is labelled, coloured and placed in an easily accessible location. 

This step took us the most time. When I just arrived all the beads were mixed up; different colours, sizes and types. So we sorted them out, which gave us a very good overview of our current inventory. Which type or colour do we need to produce more of? It was impossible to tell in the first days.

Once we sorted out the beads, we placed them in empty reused water bottles and placed different tags for the varnished ones. We also structured our tools, putting them in different baskets. I often observed that many women needed the same tool, but it took them quite some time to find it. After placing them in allocated baskets, everyone knows where to reach for a specific tool. 

It’s good to work in an environment where everyone knows where to find a specific tool, removing the annoyance to search for something in a multitude of places. 

In the midst of sorting the beads by colours, sizes and types.

Shine (Seiso)

This is basically a step where you clean up your workplace. Nobody wants to work in a dirty environment and for some businesses it’s even crucial to stay clean (e.g. food) to meet regulatory requirements. In our case cleanliness is mandatory too, as we don’t want to produce dirty beads. Our customers don’t like it and we definitely want to satisfy them. 

We cleaned our whole workplace, placed new mats and conducted awareness training about the importance of producing beads with clean hands. This has drastically improved our product quality as discussed in my previous post on built-in quality

Finally we have the clean working spaces covered with beautiful hand made mats.

Standardize (Seiketsu)

It’s a method where we set up norms and clarify responsibilities for our workers. Usually you place visual reminders and examples to ensure everyone is aware what is expected. 

Paper beads are hand rolled by women. You might think it can be hard to standardize this, but it’s possible. We started with standardizing the measurements for paper stripes for different sizes of beads. Afterwards we refreshed a training on how to roll a bead in the desired shape. We placed various samples of good beads around our workplace and provided a visual document to remind the measurements for paper stripes. 

This was great for new joiner on-boarding, but also handy for the more experienced ladies to ensure quality is sustained. 

Cutting the standardized paper stripes which will be rolled into beads

Sustain (Shitsuke)

The most challenging and important step towards making our workplace as efficient as possible. This is when we try to ensure that whatever was implemented becomes a habit and new way of working.

We put various visual reminders about the concept of 6S and assigned an ambassador who will continuously monitor the progress, ensuring we don’t slip back to our old habits. The group will also have monthly meetings to review the results and see where they improvement can or needs to be made. 

We have placed water jar can in front of the entrance to ensure everyone washes their hands

Safety 

It’s the most important aspect of every workplace. Workers need to feel safe during their working hours and managers need to continuously identify potential hazards to set up preventive controls. Everyone needs to be aware of potential risks and act safely. It’s never an easy task to achieve 100% safe working environment, but through the continuous effort to implement the 5S steps it can be drastically improved.

In our case, my first step was to buy scissors with covers, as unfortunately it’s not feasible for women to leave their babies at home. Additionally, we moved the cutting machine to a separate room, eliminating movement around the machine as much as possible which on its turn lowers the probability of an accident. 

Closing words

What I love most about 6S method, is that it involves all staff members. Everyone needs to collaborate with each other and improve the common workplace which benefits all parties. 

6S can be applied not only in the physical office space, but also digitally. Think of your desktop, document folders or email. I am sure many of us have experienced those moments when we are trying to find a document which we created a year ago but after ten minutes of search, we give up. 

Yes, it’s going to be an investment, but applying 6S principles will help you to find that file next time within one minute maximum. Guaranteed!

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