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The five Ss: Number 3: Seiso (cleaning)

Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 46: The five Ss: Number 3: Seiso (cleaning)


We have already covered the first two of the five Ss. Seiri, or organisation, is primarily about putting things away that are not needed. Seiton, or neatness, then takes those things which are being used and makes sure they are put away tidily so they are always to hand when the are needed.


It is easy in the current age to think that cleaning things is somebody else’s job. This can become an attitude that makes people think that keeping things clean is beneath them. They will walk past litter on the floor and not clean down dirty or grimy tools and machinery. Seiso, cleanliness, is an attitude that considers dirty and untidiness as intolerable. Train people in this. Make it a cultural necessity. Give them specific responsibilities. Rotate responsibilities as necessary.


Dirtiness is related to many problems. Dirt both causes and covers up scratches. It hides hazardous areas. It can be hazardous itself. It can be poisonous, it can cause accidents, such as when people slip on it.


There are three broad levels of cleaning. First, there is the overall cleaning of everything. Secondly, there is the cleaning of specific items, tools, machines and workplaces. Thirdly, there is the cleaning at the detail level, getting to grime in screw threads, corners and crevices.


To clean a whole area, first divide it into sections and allocate responsibility to each. Then identify what is to be cleaned and in what order to clean things. Identify proper methods and tools for cleaning, including brushes, solvents and so on. Also include proper protection for the person doing the cleaning, such as gloves, face-masks and overalls. Then perform the cleaning. Then think about how you can do it better next time.


Cleaning without care can cause more damage than it prevents. For example wiping down a soft surface on which there is hard waste will scratch the surface. Use the appropriate tools to ensure this type of error does not happen. Use vacuum cleaners, soft cloths, cleaning agents, and so on.


When cleaning is completed, use Seiton (neatness) principles to put away the cleaning tools. They themselves may require cleaning, for example shaking out of cloths (in an appropriate place), cleaning of vacuums. Where disposal is involved, ensure this is done properly. For example a cloth containing a hazardous solvent should not be put in the litter bin.


Standardise the approaches you use (Seiketsu). Use diagrams, checklists and charts to help ensure things are cleaned properly. Standardise the cleaning. Train people how to do it. It may seem simple, but with proper training it will be done twice as well in half the time.


When cleaning, always look for the reasons why the item got dirty. Is it leakage from something? Is it untidiness? Are things properly disposed of when they are no longer needed? Seek out the root causes of grime and dirt and eliminate them. If it is dirt in the air, check the ventilation systems—can you add filters?


Seiso cleaning is more than just cleaning—it is also inspection. Whilst something is being cleaned, you should also be inspecting it, looking for damage, defects and potential problems. Other tests can be carried out at the same time to ensure it is in perfect order. For example, whilst cleaning an engine, the oil levels and oil cleanliness can be checked.


Seiso can also include preventive maintenance that ensures things do not fail during normal operation. For example tighening up of hydraulic hoses to prevent leaks, checking and sharpening of tools and so on.


You can also use the time spent cleaning an item to think about how it can be improved. Look for ways to prevent grime build-up. Spot how it gets damaged and find ways of eliminating this. The perfect item can be cleaned in a single wipe. Or maybe it could clean itself?


Seiso in the office or laboratory is similar to Seiso in the factory. Make sure things are clean. Look for hazard. The same is true in computers. Defragment the hard disk. Clean the circuit boards inside. Clean out the junk and you will be able to see what is really there. There may be less opportunity, but the thinking, the mental discipline is very important. An attitude of cleanliness leads to clean and clear thinking that reflects in all aspects of your work.


Next time: Seiketsu (standardization)


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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