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70% Claims Reduction at Atkinson Construction

“We have truly seen a culture shift in our organization, and we couldn’t have done it without the survey that showed us exactly where we needed to begin,” said David Watts, Vice President and Director of Safety.


For more than 100 years Atkinson Construction has been on the leading edge of safety. The company helped build the Hoover Dam, a project that initiated the use of hard hats, and contributed to several other major historical construction endeavors.

Unlike brick and mortar projects, however, building a safety culture is never complete. Driving world-class performance requires a commitment to continuous improvement. In the early 2000s, David Watts, director of safety and current vice president, recognized an opportunity to take the organization’s safety culture to a higher level.

With the Caterpillar Safety Services Safety Perception Survey, Watts sought to illuminate the attitudes and beliefs guiding Atkinson’s safety culture. To get buy-in from his leaders, Watts explained that he could spend upwards of one year identifying the culture on his own, or Atkinson could engage Caterpillar safety culture experts in a more efficient diagnosis and analysis that would set Atkinson on a speedy path to measurable improvement. Within just a couple of months, the survey was administered and the results were presented through a detailed report.


The survey results provided the leadership team with a snapshot of the current Atkinson culture, based entirely on input from employees. Attitude and perception gaps between front-line employees, supervisors and managers were revealed, calling out specific areas where improvement hinged on a culture shift.

With the truth revealed, Watts was able to create a pallet of dissatisfaction with upper management. And with a baseline for improvement identified, the leaders knew exactly which areas demanded their focus.

“The Safety Perception Survey is a tool I can stand behind. With support and the right tools, it is amazing what you can accomplish,” explained Watts, who has now used the survey multiple times for Atkinson Construction—not only as a baseline evaluation, but also as a benchmark every 18-24 months following the baseline survey.


The results showed two categories ripe for improvement: safety accountability and communication. To address both areas with turnkey training, Caterpillar Safety Services customized its safety accountability product, On The Front Line, with a redesigned look and feel relatable to Atkinson employees. The course soon became required for all supervisors and above throughout the entire company.

Atkinson also used Caterpillar’s communication training products Speak Up! and Listen Up! to prepare employees for safety accountability by giving them tools for healthy, two-way communication.

Another action that developed from the results of the survey was a custom-made New Employee Orientation training course, which clearly defines the safety-related expectations of every employee at Atkinson Construction.

“We created an atmosphere where employees care and are comfortable to intervene if they see something wrong,” Watts said. “We cannot prevent someone from taking the wrong action, but we can teach people how to care and be engaged.”


Today, every employee at Atkinson Construction is aware of the importance of safety, and personnel at all levels take visible action to sustain the strong safety culture.

After all of the training implemented by Atkinson Construction, which was a direct outcome of the Safety Perception Survey results, the company has reduced claims by nearly 70 percent and has saved millions of dollars.

“The price of the survey is worth it in the long run,” said Watts. “If you think about one injury or fatality and the cost associated with it, the price of the survey outweighs the associated expenses of incidents, especially when the results and actions of the survey help prevent other incidents from happening.”

For more information about Caterpillar’s Safety Perception Survey, visit