Health and safety experts, don’t you love them? Well, I do. Particularly the ones who know about smoke and fire. Indeed, I felt very much at home the other day when I visited the offices of GBC (Speciality Chemicals), appropriately housed in the Old Fire Station, Charlbury.

The company, owned by Adrian Iley, is the European marketing headquaters for a revolutionary luminous product from Japanese multi-national Nemoto — which owns the patent on a super-efficient pigment that can make almost anything glow in the dark.

I was interested in learning about luminous exits, etc, in smoke-filled rooms, having myself recently got lost on the way out of my own home following a kitchen fire.

Mr Ilsey explained: “Our business is, I’m afraid, disaster-driven. And of course it received a huge fillip from 9/11.”

He took over the marketing of the patented pigment LumiNova — which soaks up light and shines it out again ten times more brightly and for ten times longer than its competitors’ zinc sulphide based products — a decade ago when he founded GBC.

Disasters that prompted stringent changes in evacuation procedures and laws include: the1987 Kings Cross Fire in London which claimed 31 lives, with poor evacuation procedures and smoke inhalation the main killers; 184 perishing aboard cruise ship Scandinavian Star in 1990, mainly due to smoke inhalation, with smoke obscuring exit signs; and the first attack on the World Trade Centre, New York, in 1993,which resulted in better procedures being in place when the subsequent attack occurred in 2001.

Mr Iley, an Oxfordshire man originally, moved to Charlbury from Hitchen, Hertfordshire, six years ago, together with wife Carolyn, daughter Roberta, 17, and 15-year-old son Alex, to set up his company in rented offices at Cornbury Park.

Then, in August this year, he bought the Old Fire Station, which he is now kitting out to demonstrate the intriguing and sometimes seemingly magical qualities of his product — such as bottles of wine that change colour when they reach the optimum temperature for drinking, or virtual experiences about escaping from a high rise building in an emergency.

GBC has a turnover of £1.5m, with three full-time employees, plus a sales representative in Spain, and a part-time finance director. About 70 per cent of its business comes from the rapidly expanding safety market, namely fire evacuation systems, and continuous markings in public buildings, tunnels, aircraft, and ships.

Mr Iley said: “The point is that our systems don’t fail and need no power source — which, of course, saves weight in items such as batteries and emergency circuits.”

He added that LumiNova was finding an increasing market in passenger aircraft where both Boeing and Airbus make it an original fit, and where the law requires planes to be stripped out and refitted every seven years.

But such potentially huge areas of business seemed eerily distant when I visited the Old Fire Station in the wake of Hallowe’en. I found one part of the office littered with examples of special boxes, bottles and containers made for the ghostly seasonal market.

So what exactly is this mystery stuff, which glows without giving off radioactivity for longer than anything else? Mr Iley explained: “LumiNova is a class of newly developed phosphorescent, or glow-in-the-dark pigments based on strontium oxide aluminates dosed with dispropsin. It is very different from conventional phosphorescent pigments which are either based on zinc sulphide, or on radioisotopes.”

Nemoto was given the US patent for LumiNova in 1995. Befiore that in 1993, the pigment was chosen as Most Innovative Product in Japan. Its applications include: clock and watch dials, ink, military applications, paints and high traffic signs. Nemoto’s European production plant for LumiNova is in Pombal, Portugal, where there is a factory employing about 40 people, but the main European market is in Germany.

Mr Iley explained: “Most plastic converters, necessary for incorporating our product into plastic and screen printing, are in Germany. But of course much of the product is then redistributed again from the plastic converters.”

Other areas of activity in which GBC is involved include security systems for light-activated checks on credit cards and bank notes, including Sterling from the Royal Mint.

Then there are coatings for papers to render them greaseproof, which are manufactured by German company Schill Seilacher, but marketed in conjunction with GBC.

But back to the Charlbury firm’s core business of safety. Having lived since my own fire in a succession of Oxfordshire hotels, and having taken more than usual notice of fire escape procedures, I agree with Mr Iley that they need tightening.

Of course it is in his own interest, but Mr Iley is writing to Witney MP David Cameron to tell him that fire regulations need strengthening in Oxfordshire.

As I know, fires do happen and smoke really does choke and disorient you — and clear signs are very necessary to show you the way out.