Seiso is the third step in the lean 5S process. Seiso translates from Japanese as “sweep” or “shine”. However, this translation often contributes to the superficial interpretation that sweeping or shining only relates to making areas subjectively clean or hygienic.

What is Seiso (Sweep)?
In 5S, sweep refers to the routine act of inspecting the cleanliness of an area in such a way as to identify reoccurring contamination in order to eliminate its root cause. A common misconception about 5S is that is only about making things arbitrarily hygienic or presentable. While actual cleaning is involved, and hygienic and presentable work areas are an important by-product of seiso, those features are not it’s central objective, which is actually to ultimately end the need for cleaning.

In the beginning, sweeping involves conducting a physical “sweep” to ensure areas are orderly, by picking up trash, cleaning the floors, and wiping down equipment, tools and workstations. Moving forward, each shift or day, we conduct a visual sweep, taking note of where things have become dirty or disorderly again.

This is absolutely vital to effective sweeping. As you sweep, you must document disarray and any known or theorized reasons for why the mess occurred. For repeated messes, determine the root cause and eliminate them. It’s far more efficient to eliminate a root cause rather than repeatedly cleaning the same mess. This is a far better use of your time.

In a nutshell, the sweep step of 5S is cleaning with the intention of determining why things are dirty in the first place. It’s a root cause analysis. Not having a need to clean is the best scenario. A good saying to keep this ideal top of mind is the following: “To sweep is to not clean.” Also, consider this concept “Cleaning means inspection.” It’s during the cleaning process that you can discover things more closely.

Why is Sweep important?
Sweeping can help improve morale. Studies have shown that the environment that people work and live impacts how they behave. This being said it’s important to make your workplace a good place to work in since you are there for most of the day.

Another benefit of Sweep is it improves safety by eliminating hazards in the workplace that can result in injury.

It also paves the way for companies to save money because discovering things like leaks lead to equipment repair, which also results in preventing equipment and machinery breakdown. Time and time again, research has shown that dirt is the reason for these breakdowns that’s why it is necessary to sweep.

How to Sweep
The first step to sweeping is to clean with meaning. This simply refers to removing the cause of dirt and disorder altogether. There are four key points to focus on when cleaning with meaning and they are as follows:

  1. Restore to good conditions: This means that if a work area is a total mess then it is time clean and organize it.
  2. Find the source of disorder: Rather than repeatedly cleaning something up, try to determine what is causing the mess.
  3. Eliminate root causes: Once you find the source of the mess, try to fix it. If it’s an equipment that needs repair, then have it serviced. Don’t ignore it. Doing will lead to more wasted time, and may result in lower morale, and can even lead to injury.
  4. Reduce the need to clean: If you religiously focus on the source of disorder, you can reduce the need to clean. Even when you may not be able to totally eliminate the need to clean, you can often reduce the need.
How clean is clean enough?

Part of the process of 5S is to ensure that everything is clean inside and out. Again, best practice is to continue cleaning until you adequately understand why things become filthy. This then gives you an opportunity to address the root cause.

Recommendations for Sweeping the Workplace
    • Step 1. Own the Zone: Assign an area of responsibility to each individual. It is the task of that person to watch after their assigned zone every day. Keep in check the amount of time it takes each person to carry out daily maintenance. For this to be effective, everyone should do their part.
    • Step 2. Set Standards to Sweep: This can be done even though it doesn’t really add value to our product or services. Having a standard in place would help the consistency of maintaining the workplace.
    • Step 3. Keep to the clock: Set a time limit on the amount of time to be spent on cleaning. This would prevent people from spending too much time on this activity thus affecting their productivity.
    • Step 4. Start at the same time: Starting this activity at the same time can help you see if people are sticking to their assignments and if not, this can be adjusted.
    • Step 5. Clean it while still small, then keep it clean: Like anything else, it’s best to start cleaning up when the mess is still small. This is much easier to complete and less work. Procrastinating will only have you ending up with more time spent on cleaning and a lot more to clean up.

Sweeping doesn’t have to be a difficult task. It just takes a keen eye and immediate action to keep things in check.