Human error taxonomies have been developed from analysis of industrial incident reports as well as from psychological experiments. In this paper the results of the two approaches are reviewed and compared. It is found, in both cases, that a fairly small number of basic psychological mechanisms will account for most of the action errors observed. In addition, error mechanisms appear to be intimately related to the development of high skill and know-how in a complex work context. This relationship between errors and human adaptation is discussed in detail for individuals and organisations. The implications for system safety are briefly mentioned, together with the implications for system design.