Primary care lags behind secondary care in the reporting of, and learning from, incidents that put patient safety at risk. In primary care, there is no universally agreed approach to classifying the severity of harm arising from such patient-safety incidents. This lack of an agreed approach limits learning that could lead to the prevention of injury to patients. In a review of research on patient safety in primary care, we identified 21 existing approaches to the classification of harm severity. Using the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) International Classification for Patient Safety as a reference, we undertook a framework analysis of these approaches. We then developed a new system for the classification of harm severity. To assess and classify harm, most existing approaches use measures of symptom duration (11/21), symptom severity (11/21) and/or the level of intervention required to manage the harm (14/21). However, few of these approaches account for the deleterious effects of hospitalization or the psychological stress that may be experienced by patients and/or their relatives. The new classification system we developed builds on WHO’s International Classification for Patient Safety and takes account not only of hospitalization and psychological stress but also of so-called near misses and uncertain outcomes. The constructs we have outlined have the potential to be applied internationally, across primary-care settings, to improve both the detection and prevention of incidents that cause the most severe harm to patients.