The paper describes the process of developing a taxonomy of patient safety in general practice. The methodologies employed included fieldwork, task analysis and confidential reporting of patient-safety events in five West Midlands practices. Reported events were traced back to their root causes and contributing factors. The resulting taxonomy is based on a theoretical model of human cognition, includes multiple levels of classification to reflect the chain of causation and considers affective and physiological influences on performance. Events are classified at three levels. At level one, the information-processing model of cognition is used to classify errors. At level two, immediate causes are identified, internal and external to the individual. At level three, more remote causal factors are classified as either 'work organization' or 'technical' with subcategories. The properties of the taxonomy (validity, reliability, comprehensiveness) as well as its usability and acceptability remain to be tested with potential users.