The incidences of mortality and morbidity associated with anaesthesia were reviewed. Most of the published incidences for common complications of anaesthesia vary considerably. Where possible, a realistic estimate of the incidence of each morbidity has been made, based on the best available data. Perception of risk and communication of anaesthetic risk to patients are discussed. The incidences of anaesthetic complications are compared with the relative risks of everyday events, using a community cluster logarithmic scale, in order to place the risks in perspective when compared with other complications and with the inherent risks of surgery. Documentation of these risks and discussion with patients should allow them to be better informed of the relative risks of anaesthetic complications. Depending on specific comorbidities and the severity of operation, these risks associated with anaesthesia may increase for any one individual.