Why are 5S Red Tags Red?

January 18, 2010

I was just on the phone recently with a good friend of mine, John Calabrese from the Arizona MEP (Manufacturing Extension Partnership) Center, while he was at a client and that had this question “Do 5S tags have to be red?”

I have heard this question several times before during 5S Events while performing the first “S” – Sort. Traditionally 5S tags are red. The red color gets your attention that the item may not belong in that immediate work area. You fill out a tag, attach it to the item and move the item to a 5S Red Tag Holding Area. As Hiroyuki Hirano explains it in one of the best books on 5S “5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace

Why use the color red? First of all, red is conspicuous. Second, red is the color of stoplights. Finally, the Japanese word for “red” also means “dirt.”

This question mostly comes up because a company already uses red tags to identify parts for “QC Hold” or “Reject” and they don’t want to confuse their workers on what a red tag means.

But, back to John’s question, the quick answer is “no”. 5S Red Tags do not have to be red. They could be any color you want. During one 5S Event the company insisted on using 5S Purple Tags so their employees wouldn’t get them confused with their red QC (Quality Control) tags. I thought that this was strange, because they didn’t want their employees to be perplexed about what a red tag stood for. But how would they explain that during Sort they would be using purple 5S Red Tags? Now that sounds confusing to me.

Some organizations use certain color tags to represent specific things. For instance, it is common to see yellow tags for maintenance issues or white tags for safety issues. It is imperative that a company have a standard and stick with it.

The more I wrestled with this, the more bimodal my thoughts became. Should I be thinking “What do I care what color tag they use, as long as they use them effectively?” Or, should I take a stand and say “Hey, it is called 5S Red Tagging for a reason – because the tags are red!”

I would like to know your thoughts on this – Should 5S tags be red?

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