Barber called on it to fund a nationwide "roving safety rep" scheme. The Health and Safety Executive has just produced a report on a nine-month trial of this idea, which found that three-quarters of the 88 participating companies improved their approach to health and safety.
He said: "The government needs to embrace the roving reps scheme and provide active funded support for it as a sign of its commitment to safety standards."
The roving reps travel around sites looking for using unsafe practices, which they then report to the HSE. Barber called for the HSE to be given more resources to prosecute cases brought to it by the reps.
He told Building: "The government should provide increased funding for the HSE, as there is no point employing lots of reps to detect the breaches of safety standards if there are not enough HSE inspectors to police and enforce them once detected."
According to Barber, the reps would also need to watch out for, and clamp down on, illegal immigrants working on sites, as they posed a threat to safety standards.
He added that evidence from the roving rep pilot schemes showed that safety standards had improved.
The government needs to provide active funded support
Brendan Barber, TUC
He added that, as a leading construction client that procures 40% of the UK construction workload, the government should set a benchmark for safety practices on its sites.
On a separate issue, Barber would not be drawn on the public services reform debate that is certain to be the focus of attention at next week's Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.
Key unions such as Unison are planning to launch fierce attacks on the government over the reforms – particularly plans to transfer some public service jobs to the control of private management in PFI contracts, which they argue would create a two-tier workforce.
Barber said his key message would be for contractors to work with unions and to worry first about creating decent working conditions for all employees.