The statistics of edge-localized plasma instabilities (ELMs) in toroidal magnetically confined fusion plasmas are considered. From first principles, standard experimentally motivated assumptions are shown to determine a specific probability distribution for the waiting times between ELMs: the Weibull distribution. This is confirmed empirically by a statistically rigorous comparison with a large data set from the Joint European Torus. The successful characterization of ELM waiting times enables future work to progress in various ways. Here we present a quantitative classification of ELM types, complementary to phenomenological approaches. It also informs us about the nature of ELM processes, such as whether they are random or deterministic. The methods are extremely general and can be applied to numerous other quasiperiodic intermittent phenomena.