Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive this week show that deaths have increased by almost a quarter, from 85 to106, in the year ending 31 March. This is the highest toll for 10 years.
Nick Raynsford, minister with responsibility for health and safety, said a cultural change was required.
He said too much emphasis was placed on cutting cost and not enough on obtaining best value. He said there had to be an investment in training to raise standards.
Raynsford, speaking at the Institution of Civil Engineers this week, said educational institutions could contribute by teaching health and safety procedures.
Transport minister John Spellar told Building that trained craftsmen were more likely to understand how to manage risk on site. He said: "Making sure there is a properly trained and upgraded workforce is enormously important."
Construction industry leaders agreed that better training should be the focus for improving safety.
John Gains, president of the Construction Confederation, said that the industry needed better training and had to recruit higher quality people.
He warned the government that change would not happen quickly. "We're talking about training the whole industry," he said.
The HSE figures reveal that 106 construction-related deaths occurred from April 2000 to March 2001 – more than one-third of all reported work-related deaths.
The call for improved training comes as the Major Contractors Group released figures revealing that most accidents occur on small and medium-sized construction sites. The figures show that although major contractors carried out 35% of construction work last year, only 10% of fatal accidents occurred on their sites.
Union head George Brumwell said UCATT was appalled but not surprised by the figures. He said the safety summit in February was a culmination of months of high-level concern but the problem was still getting worse.
"At the moment, there's too much talk at the top level and not enough action on the ground," he said.
Unveiling the safety figures, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, Bill Callaghan, drew attention to the construction industry's record.
Callaghan said the primary responsibility for health and safety was with employers, who had to take reasonable steps to safeguard the lives of their workers.
The HSE figures showed that across all industries, 56% of workplace accidents were unreported and that 96% of self-employed people failed to report accidents.
Kevin Myers, the HSE's chief construction inspector, said that the industry was making progress. He said the February summit showed it wanted to improve.
"It is time for the things promised in February to start being implemented," he said.
Myers will report back on the industry's safety at follow-up forum to February's safety summit, to be held in October.