Social sciences have given much to the science and practice of patient safety, but have more to offer. The purposes of this paper are to give a background to the studies presented in this special issue, and to encourage more social scientist to contribute to this important and rapidly growing field. This is largely preaching to the converted - there is one other purpose which may be achieved if more traditional medical researchers and reviewers see this special issue. That is to show how social sciences help to understand, explain and address many issues which traditional medical research methods are not designed to penetrate. This special issue shows the value of social science patient safety research, and gives a reference point for future researchers in making proposals, designing research and comparing their findings. It highlights areas which this research needs to address in its methods, presentation, and subjects studied.