Man says heat inside Fayetteville plant a factor in wife's death
Posted February 3
Fayetteville, N.C. — After a worker died last summer at a Fayetteville manufacturing plant, state regulators have advised the company to restructure its training for employees to avoid heat-related illness.
Sherion Winfrey, 62, collapsed at the Mann+Hummel Purolator Filters plant, at 3200 Natal St., on June 23 and died at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. A medical examiner ruled an aneurysm as the cause of death, but her husband said he believes sweltering conditions inside the plant played a role in her death.
Winfrey worked in a part of the plant that isn't air conditioned and where ovens operate as part of the process of making automotive filters.
Gerard Winfrey said his wife would routinely freeze bottles of water to take into work with her and would be so drained when she came home after a 10-hour shift that she would simply shower, eat dinner and go to sleep.
"The medical people who were there – I guess were assigned to the plant – they even said that she was dehydrated," Gerard Winfrey said Wednesday in his first public statements about his wife's death. "I didn't think anything of it because I have been dehydrated before."
When he was notified that his wife had collapsed, he rushed to the plant and then to the hospital, but she died before he got to see her.
"The saddest part is, I didn't get a chance to tell her goodbye," he said, choking back tears.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Division inspected the plant after her death and informed Purolator officials in December that the heat index inside the plant on June 23 went as high as 102.9 degrees.
Officials noted the company held annual training sessions on heat-related stress in July and advised managers to conduct them earlier in the year so workers were better prepared.
Dale Wagner, the human resources director at Purolator, said the company plans to do that. Other changes include pumping cool air into the hotter sections of the plant and giving employees longer break times during hot weather.
Gerard Winfrey, who saw the OSH report for the first time Wednesday, said the changes are too little, too late for him.
Sherion Winfrey had worked at Purolator for 38 years and was nine days away from retiring when she died. Her husband, who worked at Fayetteville State University before retiring, said the couple planned to travel once she stopped working.
"She treated me like I was a king," he said.
He described her as the kind of person who would literally give a stranger the clothes off her back – or even her feet.
"One of the members in the church liked her shoes, so after the service, she gave that person her shoes," he said.