The database of incident forms relating to anaesthesia services in an institutional risk management programme were reviewed for 2003-2005, the aim being to identify any recurring patterns. Incidents were prospectively categorised as relating to attitude/behaviour, communication breakdown, delay in service, or were related to care, cost, environment, equipment, security, administrative process, quality of service or miscellaneous. The total number of anaesthesia-related incidents reported during the period was 287, which related to 0.44% of the total number of anaesthetics administered during the time period. In all, 170 incidents were reported by the department, 96 by internal customers and 21 by external customers. Only 30% of the complaints came from the operating room. Thirty-four percent of all incidents related to communication, behaviour and delay in service. A requirement to teach communication skills and stress handling formally in anaesthesia training programmes, and at the time of induction of staff into the department, has been identified.