Public sector union Prospect has demanded that the inspectors be given an annual pay rise of at least 2.6% by today or it will activate its disputes procedure.
The union has carried out an indicative ballot of its members. This found that 89% were in favour of some kind of industrial action and 60% supported a strike. Seventy per cent of the union's member took part.
An inspectors' strike could mean that sites operated with no check on their compliance with health and safety legislation.
Richard Hardy, the negotiations officer with Prospect, slammed the HSE's management for the way it has dealt with the pay dispute. He said he had been in talks since last May but had not reached a satisfactory deal.
He said: "It is terrible that it has come to this, but this situation has occurred from the incompetent management at the HSE. We don't want to face a situation like the fire fighters' dispute whereby the public are put at risk by strikes; we just want a fair deal."
Hardy added that he had been speaking to the HSE, and that the HSE was considering the union's demands.
The HSE is currently offering a complicated pay deal based on hierarchy scales. It is understood that staff at the top of the pay scale would receive 1.5%.
This situation occurred from incompetent management
Richard Hardy, Prospect
The Construction Confederation said it had been lobbying the government for increased funding for the HSE. A spokesperson said: "We need a more active approach and the recruitment of more front-line construction inspectors. We are due to meet Treasury officials discuss the issue." John Gould, the HSE's deputy director of personnel policy, said that the agency was continuing to negotiate with trade unions.
Gould said: "Although a ballot has taken place, it is not a strike ballot at this stage." He added that arrangements had been put in place to handle key services in the event of industrial action, including construction inspections.
Concerning claims of HSE incompetence made by the union, Gould said he would wait until he read such claims before commenting.
An HSE insider said morale was low among inspectors at the 145-strong construction division.
He said: "There are people who have been here longer than others but due to complicated pay structures they end up earning less than less experienced staff."
He added that inspectors were unhappy about the amount of paperwork they had to complete and the time it took to bring about prosecutions.