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5S Program Sort

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

red tag as part of 5S sort

The first step in a 5S Program is Sort. "Sorting" means to sort through & separate everything in each work area. Keep only what is necessary. Materials, tools, equipment and supplies that are not frequently used should be moved to a separate, common storage area. Items that are not used should be discarded or recycled. Don't keep things around just because they might be used, someday.

5S Sorting itself involves five steps:

  1. Cleaning
  2. Classifying
  3. Ownership
  4. Red Tagging
  5. Recycling / Reassignment


The purpose of "sorting" is to identify unnecessary items and eliminate them from the workplace. To do this first requires cleaning up the workplace so you can see what you have. Clean up accumulations of dirt, debris, oil, grease, broken tools, excess materials, and scrap. As you do this you'll also be involved with the second step of 5S sorting.


As you are cleaning up you'll find tools, equipment, materials and supplies. As each item is found, classify it as to the type of object. Scrap metal might go directly to a recycling bin. An item classified as tool might go to a collection area for further identification.


In some cases, as items are found or classified their ownership may be obvious. For example, pallets might be collected in one area so they can be returned to the shipping department. It may be immediately obvious where a tool belongs and that tool can be directly returned to its correct storage location. In other cases determining ownership may require asking some questions or doing a little research.

Once ownership is determined the owner can decide what to do with the item - store it, pass it on to another work area or department, or dispose of the item. However, in some cases the ownership of an item may not be readily apparent. This brings us to the fourth step in 5S sorting, red tagging.

Red Tagging

If an item cannot be identified, or if it cannot be classified, or if ownership cannot be determined, then it should be red tagged. Red tagging involves marking items with a red tag so that each item can be evaluated and dealt with appropriately. Red tagged items are collected in an area that allows potential owners to examine them and determine what should be done with the items for which they are responsible.

Recycling / Reassignment

Red tagged items that are not claimed after a reasonable amount of time, such as 30 days, may be recycled, disposed of, or if they are still useful they can be reassigned. A simple approach for reassigning items is to, at the end of the 30 day red tag period, provide a seven day period in which any supervisor may take any red tagged item with an expired read tag. These items are then reassigned to that supervisor's work area.


In some cases the five steps of 5S sorting may happen simultaneously. We can clean, classify, determine ownership, and red tag in just a few seconds. In other circumstances the process may be more involved and the steps more distinct. But the objective is the same, clean up and get rid of unused items.

Basic 5S Sort Principle

With 5S sorting you are taking the first step toward making a work area tidy, organized, and arranged so that it is easier to find the things you need. The result will be that waste is eliminated and additional space will become available. Obsolete fixtures, molds, jigs, scrap material, waste, and other unused items and materials are disposed of or recycled. Broken equipment and tools are repaired or thrown out.

Don't keep things around just because they might be used, someday

An additional benefit is that cleaning up not only makes things look nice, it makes it easier to spot maintenance needs such as an oil leak. It improves safety. It eliminates clutter and confusion. It removes tools, equipment, supplies and waste that interferes with getting the job done.

5S sorting is simple, common-sense, and it begins a journey that results in eliminating waste, and improving safety, quality, and productivity though the implementation of the five basic principles of 5S.

The Five S's: Sort » Set In Order » Shine » Standardize » Sustain

Check out our detailed overview of the 5S System.