It is a widely held belief that the current system of oversight of clinical research, particularly the means of assessing risks and minimizing harms to participants in clinical trials, could be improved. In particular, the system is inefficient with overemphasis on the monitoring ability of some groups such as research ethics review boards and investigators, underemphasis on others such as data monitoring committees (DMCs) and sponsors, confusion about responsibilities for safety and imperfect communication between these different groups. Research ethics review boards are not able to perform safety monitoring by review of individual adverse events and are often burdened by duplicative reviews of large multicenter studies. There are no standards for DMCs to ensure they can reliably identify safety issues. Sponsors may be overreliant on data audits and slow to disseminate safety data in a coherent summary. Investigators, their staffs and clinical sites may not fully appreciate all the nuances of good clinical practice or may be inattentive to the daily conduct of studies. Regulators, particularly those in the United States, have failed to completely harmonize their policies with each other or with international regulatory agencies. We recommend well-designed monitoring plans for all studies that are appropriate to their scope and risk, more centralized review of large multisite studies and closer local scrutiny of single-institution studies. In addition, sponsors should pay greater attention to monitoring adverse events and keeping up-to-date databases or investigator's brochures emphasizing safety issues. A minimal standard of education or expertise in good clinical practice should be established for investigators, their staffs and research ethics review board members. DMC composition and functions should be standardized and regulations should be harmonized nationally and internationally. Finally, there should be a concerted effort to study the efficacy of various components of the system.