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Many possible hazards bedevil the perioperative patient. This review focuses on a number of aspects of perioperative management where the patient's quality and safety can be enhanced.Our understanding of the relationship between preoperative preparation and postoperative outcomes has improved. There have also been recent developments in our understanding of how to construct useful cognitive aids and make the best use of checklists by understanding the cultural environment supporting their use. Postoperatively, the concept of ‘failure to rescue’ in the surgical patients has been explored.A clear vision of what postoperative recovery should mean for practitioner and patients; careful risk stratification and prophylactic measures to avoid postoperative complications; the judicious use of checklists and other cognitive aids to complement clinical expertise in promoting safety within each local context; and the prompt recognition and rescue of postoperative problems when they occur are all important aspects of a safe perioperative care.