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5S Color-Coding and Visual Standards

5S / Lean

Good communication is important in every industry – especially the healthcare, manufacturing, industrial, and food industries. Without visual communication, messages are hard to understand. Misunderstandings can interfere with productivity which is why color-coding standards are critical. 5S color-coding allows you to communicate without speaking.

Color-coding standards are a vital part of any 5S lean or productivity initiative. With color-coding, it’s easier to find designated critical zones, control points, and reduce wasted time.

5S Color-coding goes beyond cleaning and material handling tools.

Don’t let systems or standards fool you. Even though color-coding is not a standard rule, it’s a practice regulatory authorities agree with. According to the FDA, “any action or activity that can be used to prevent, eliminate or reduce a significant hazard” is concerned a control measure. Therefore color-coding is an ideal control measure. Also, it is easily documented and followed by employees.

Accessories such as bins, clipboards, tapes, document holders, tools, and more can be color-coded to increase organization in a big way. For example, using the same color bins, labels, tools, floor tape, and binders can indicate that space is considered a red zone, wet zone, or dry zone.

Aisle and floor marking are considered one of the most useful processes used for the 5S set in order phase. With floor marking tapes, shapes, markers, and stencils you can create organized spaces on your production floor. You can also use 6S aisle marking to direct traffic, provide non-slip walkways, and keep forklift and pedestrian traffic separated.


Six best practices for using a color-code system effectively:

1) Keep your 5S color-coded system simple.

It’s a great idea to limit the number of colors you decided to use with your color-coded system. With too many colors employees tend to become confused and fail to follow the standard. Popular solid colors used for color-coding are black, white, yellow, purple, green, orange, grey, blue, and red.

2) Select consistent colors for each area.

Try to choose colors that make the most sense in each area – like red for quality issues. Don’t use the same color for equipment, sanitized, raw, processed, etc. areas. Employees will remember what colors mean. However, if you aren’t consistent, it can become hard to standardize the colors in your facility.

3) Avoid complex color projects.

Try not to mix and match your color-coded strategy. For instance, if you mix and match a red handle with a blue brush, you’ll have to decide what colored zone the tool should stay in. Mixing colors of tools, bins, totes, and containers will create confusion. After all, we encourage color-coding to solve problems – not create new ones. Avoid mixing color-coding in the same area.

4) Introduce the 5S color-coding program at one time.

You might want to tackle color-coding on one side of your facility because it’s easier for you – but it’s best to incorporate the program at one time. Introduce the color-coding program during your 5S lean initiatives. Then, once the area is cleaned up, take the opportunity to designate specific colors to areas.

5) Reinforce 5S color-coding with labels, signs, and posters.

Eliminate any confusion with what the specific colors mean by posting labels, numbers and tags. You’ll want to ensure the process is easy for everyone – not a guessing game.

6) Match the color of the tools and storage areas.

If red tools are stored on a red Tool Shadow-Board, never hang a different color on the board. The idea is to keep color-coding separate. Eliminate cross-contamination and using the wrong items in specific work zones with color-coding.

5S Color Visual Standards

If you look around for a moment, you’ll notice a ton of visual cues. You’re probably not surprised, right? It is no longer enough to hear the hard facts – these days you need to see them, too.

A visual workplace helps close the communication gap – and so much more. Visuals:

  • Reinforce standards and highlight critical information.
  • Sustain lean improvements.
  • Assist continuous improvement in a constantly changing industry.
  • Are the glue that holds everything together

Too often, 5S leaders neglect this crucial standardizing practice. Without visible, publicized standards for visual colors, you create ambiguity throughout your team. Therefore, make it a point to develop these standards and post them sufficiently throughout the plant.

Having color visual standards is a critical component of your standardization phase of 5S. Without these standard colors, your workers are likely to choose whatever color tape, aisle marker or signal they happen to find lying around. Moreover, the workplace simply doesn’t look organized in the least. So help them help you by putting some standards in place.

Typical 5S Color Standards:

Yellow Aisles, Traffic lanes, Walkways, Machine Guards, Work cells
Orange Inspection or temporary storage locations
Red Defects, Scrap, Rework, Red tag areas
Green Finished goods, Safety Equipment
Blue Raw materials, Inventory, Inspection points
Black Work in progress, materials
Black / Yellow Areas of potential health risk requiring caution, hazardous material containers
Black / White Areas for operational use – stay out
Gray Racks, storage, etc.


Use custom visual communication boards to turn your vision into your team’s vision.

Reinforce important objectives, display KPIs, highlight Lean/Kaizen activities, and share planned initiatives through visual communication. Site Boards enable you to effectively communicate your message to support and influence your business objectives.

Custom Site Board options include:

  • Board size and shape, colors, images, company logos, and graphics.
  • Choose from our wide variety of material options, including magnetic or dry-erase.
  • Create Site-Boards™ in several different styles to match your application.
  • Outfit your Site-Boards™ with additional components to increase its functionality.


5S Resources: is among the nation’s leading suppliers of OSHA, NFPA and other safety and compliance signs and labels. The online store allows customers to easily search and shop more than 100,000 products. All signs and labels are manufactured in Florida and sold online. ComplianceSigns was designated as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. by “Inc. Magazine.” ComplianceSigns clients span a wide range of industries, including military and government agencies, industrial and chemical manufacturers, retailers, schools, physician offices and health care facilities, professional buildings, churches and more.