5S to reduce risk exposure to covid-19

As I always say, 5S looks like a simple housekeeping tool, but it is truly powerful to change behaviors, especially now you can use 5s to reduce risk exposure to covid-19.

You can also read OSHA guidance on preparing workplaces for covid-19.

Developing a cleanliness culture

The 5S method has its origins in Japan. It helps people to become more disciplined, aware of safety precautions, focusing on what is important, and respectful for others. The method was popularized by Taiichi Ohno, who also designed the Toyota Production System and Shigeo Shingo. 5S is usually the first step to start a quality implementation, especially in Japan. And the main reason why is that the importance of organization and cleanliness is rooted in the Japanese culture. Japan itself is clean and tidy, and people super disciplined.

5S to reduce risk exposure to covid-19
Photo by Pexels @kelly-lacy-1179532

When people in Japan catch colds or flu, they already had the habit of wearing surgical masks to avoid infecting other people. This simple act of consideration for others reduces the spread of viruses. That’s the main reason why they were faster than other countries like China and Italy to contain the outbreak: they detected the problem, exposed it and each individual knew what they needed to do.

Public spaces including streets, train stations and toilets are clean without trash. It’s difficult to find trash boxes in the streets because people are encouraged to take the garbage back home. At school, students are supposed to clean their own classrooms as a part of school activities. On arriving at school or getting back from work, students and workers leave their shoes in lockers or at the entrance.

For Buddhists, daily tasks like cleaning and cooking are considered spiritual exercises, no different from meditating.

Buddhism itself teaches the importance of cleanliness for having a peaceful mind. For them, daily tasks like cleaning and cooking are considered spiritual exercises, no different from meditating.

Japanese become so clean-conscious basically because of their hot and humid environment which is bacteria prone. Invisible dirt like germs and bacteria are a source of concern. Cleanliness, organization and respect for others directly mean good health.

5 steps to keep your space under control

5S culture will help you enjoy the present moment while you improve organization and cleanliness, reducing the effort and improving communication with team members. You will probably stay longer hours at home with your family, making it a potential “battlefield”. Use 5S to ensure your space is under control and to keep track of your precious inventory (food and cleaning supplies especially). Today while getting back from the supermarket, I realize how much I had bought compared to my normal shopping cart. When you buy more than usual, you quickly run out of space. That’s where 5S comes into place more than ever:

Sort. Separate what is needed from what is not needed.

You may be storing food that is no longer in good condition. Or maybe you are storing food in the main compartment, that you will not use now, but in the next 6 months (such as fondant for birthday cakes). If you have to stay at home, take the time to organize your pantry, fridge and freezer to really define what is needed in the short term, and store in “hard to reach” locations that it is not needed as frequently.

Store: Arrange items for ease of use.

kitchen 5s organization
  • Store the items that have short due dates and need to be consumed earlier closer to the door, or label them with clear due dates or red tags.
  • You may need to rearrange items. Sometimes you realize you have items in the fridge, that could be stored somewhere else and still be safe. Prioritize your items so that they are in the best possible location, considering the frequency of use, who needs to use them or access to them and who doesn’t and where it is the safer location to keep quality intact.  

Read more: Make home organization easy and stress-free

  • Organize items by category, and label them if necessary. That way you know where all the cans are, where all the flours are, where all the dairy items are, etc. It helps you to cook more efficiently, and to define when to re-stock. It also helps anyone to find the item in the future. If you are still working outside, you may not have enough people in the office to help you find a document or a tool. Labels could help everyone improve communication.
  • To get more space out of the same cabinet, just be mindful of how you organize your items. Usually, there is a lot of space on the back, or shelves are not fully used. You can use square containers (transparent ones Is desired) to be able to pile up more items and use the full height of the shelve. Measure it before buying the containers to be more efficient. You can also move the shelves to adjust the height as needed.    
  • Use Kanban or checklists to keep up with the inventory, and avoid frequent check-ins to the supermarket.

Shine: Set a new level of cleanliness to spot hidden problems

During a virus massive outbreak, standards may be tougher than usual. Make sure you leave your shoes at the door. Keep a special location for this, close to the door. Clean the cellphone and watch surfaces as soon as you get inside the house or the car. Wash your hands when you are in contact with other people or other surfaces, and keep a hand-sanitizer close to you at all times if you cannot wash your hands. You may need to develop your own new routine and train kids and employees. If you go to the gym or use shared tools/machines, use disinfecting wipes to clean them before and after use. Try to keep your own cleaning supplies. And last but not least, be mindful when you cough or sneeze, using a tissue or your arm to cover your mouth and nose to avoid other areas getting contaminated, even at home. Germs, virus and bacteria may remain for a long time on certain surfaces.  

One of the most important learnings of 5S is self-discipline. In the case of shine, making sure you clean after yourself is key to maintain cleanliness and enjoy safe spaces for longer periods.

Standardize: Define a System to maintain 1S, 2S and 3S.

You can make this a family activity so that everyone is involved in organizing where everything goes, what is needed and what is not. Engaging everyone helps to maintain the organization through time, you can even assign owners to areas and shelves to keep monitoring from now on. Define cleaning schedules, take pictures of before and after (imagine how your garage could look like free of clutter) and define cleanliness standards (what is accepted and what is not). Standards don’t have to be big manuals, pictures, checklists, and visual management tools like colors, transparent containers and tags are simple reminders on what needs to be done. They have to be designed in such a way that even babies can follow the instructions. Labels like standards help solve communication issues and barriers.  Are you ready for the challenge?

Self-organize: Make 5S a habit as part of your day to day activities.

Build the 5S habit everywhere you are. 5S routines have the spirit of installing a ceremony at the beginning and the end of the workday. Before leaving the workplace (or your house) to someone else, every employee should make sure it’s clean and organized as it was before or even better. Taking any tools back to where they were, defining homes for everything, keeping the areas clean as you work and examining machines to make sure they don’t show any leaks is part of the daily tasks.  The routines can also include practicing some kind of stretching during the day, closing your eyes to think or taking a moment to thank. I have read several times that making your bed every morning as part of a routine, is a small achievement that you commit to every day and leads to bigger achievements and satisfaction.


Turning off auto-pilot

5S main objective is to keep the workplace organized and clean. The main benefit is that employees are trained to expose waste and problems, and especially during this season, 5S can reduce risk exposure to covid-19, saving in lost workdays, medical expenses and other pains.

In order to reduce waste and improve cleanliness continuously, you need to be very focused on the present moment. You turn off your auto-pilot mode to become more aware of where you store your tools, how you keep your area clean and make sure you respect and take care of people, procedures, and even things like machines, floors or tools that surround you. Think about how many things you do in auto-pilot, that is without even thinking, throughout the day.

This auto-pilot state is one of the main root causes of unsafe behaviors. When an employee stops thinking about what he is doing, he is not able to see new things coming up, he may not recognize new threats or may not be able to react on time. Sometimes we even feel like we drive in auto-pilot! that reduces our chances to react to a sudden stop.

Use 5S as a mindfulness tool

Practicing a state of working with care and present awareness helps significantly to reduce accidents and mistakes. We have seen severalñ videos of these days of officials advising us not to shake hands and keep distance, while when they finish their speech, the first thing they do is shake hands.

When implementing the 5S culture, this is a normal way of working. It is just like practicing mindfulness in every action. Whatever you do you have to do it consciously, not in auto-pilot mode. That way you make sure you are safe and respectful. You make sure you follow procedures, return tools back to their homes and work in a way to avoid getting things dirty. Being aware of any mess you do, cleaning it up as soon as possible, and leave the areas as clean and organized as they were when you found them (or better). It’s key to show respect for who comes next.

Implementing it at home

You may think you don’t need to freak out this much, but really you can take it as an opportunity to start new habits at home or at work to help you keep your spaces under control. And you will not be the only one getting the benefit out of this. Once back at work you can help your co-workers to keep documents and stock more organized and clean.

Researchers show that a more organized environment helps you keep the focus on what needs to be done and avoid distractions. Present-moment awareness not only boosts stress resilience and well-being and reduce accidents and mistakes, it also lowers levels of anxiety and depression. This is especially important during this time of uncertainty.

Take this opportunity to become more mindful of your daily tasks, and make sure you only what you need, and you are able to keep it clean. Develop your new 5S routine, and be safe!!

Check my book 5S your life to learn more.

Lu Paulise – Coach, book author and speaker

[email protected]


Biztorming Training & Consulting


  • Lu Paulise

    Business Coach and author, owner of Biztorming Training & Consulting

    Luciana Paulise is a business coach, founder of Biztorming Training & Consulting. She specializes in agile coaching and cultural change. She holds a Master in Business Administration and is also a Quality Engineer certified by the American Society of Quality (ASQ). She has participated as an examiner for the National Quality Award and Team Excellence Award in Argentina. She has authored the book “SOS SME’s – 20 keys to boosting your business”. She writes as Influential Voice for the American Society of Quality and is a columnist for various international media sites.