A prospective non-randomized study was undertaken to compare, in intensive care patients, the safety and utility of a percutaneous tracheostomy technique performed at the bedside with a surgical tracheostomy technique performed in the operating room. During a 21 month period, 153 percutaneous tracheostomies were performed. Complications occurred in 6 patients (3.9%). Secondary wound haemorrhage occurred in 4 patients and primary wound haemorrhage occurred in 2 patients. During the same period, 74 surgical tracheostomies were performed. Complications occurred in 14 patients (18.9%) which included tracheal obstruction, haemorrhage, pneumothorax, wound infection, wound breakdown and one death. In comparison to surgical tracheostomies, percutaneous tracheostomies were rapidly and easily performed at the bedside and were associated with significantly fewer complications.