Dairy Crest and a welding company have been fined for exposing workers to material containing asbestos.
The asbestos fibres were released during work to remove industrial boilers, pipework and a boiler house at a redundant Dairy Crest site near Totnes railway station in Devon on May 25, 2010.
The dangerous material remained exposed until a clean-up operation belatedly began two days later.
The national dairy chain was prosecuted alongside Rochdale Electric Welding Co (Rewco), of Middleton, Greater Manchester, after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified failings with the planning of the job and a lack of training for workers involved.
Plymouth Crown Court heard that Dairy Crest had agreed to sell boilers from the Totnes plant, plus another site in Somerset, to Rewco.
Rewco began removing the boilers without carrying out sufficient inquiries into whether asbestos was present. Dairy Crest had previously carried out a suitable survey for asbestos material, but failed to pass on the report.
Three Rewco workers carried out the removal of the boilers and pipework while wearing normal work clothes that became contaminated with asbestos dust and fibres. As a result all three were exposed and could potentially face long-term respiratory problems and even incurable lung diseases.
HSE inspectors found widespread contamination when they visited the site and steps were taken immediately to prevent any further risk.
Dairy Crest Ltd, of Esher, Surrey, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £22,214 in costs after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
Rochdale Electric Welding Co Ltd pleaded guilty to two breaches of the same legislation and was fined £8,000, with £13,786 in costs.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector, Martin Lee said: “This was a very serious incident that could severely impact on the future health of the employees who worked with and near the asbestos.”