A worker pushes heavy machinery across a snow-white landscape, breathing in a blizzard of harmful dust. In the limestone quarries of Minya province, south of Cairo, labourers in sandals and makeshift masks use unsheathed rotary blades to cut the white rock into bricks.

The quarry workers plan to go on strike next month. They earn between £6.30 ($10, €8.80) and £10 a day with no medical insurance. Some have lost arms, legs or fingers in accidents, and there is a high risk of various respiratory and skin diseases.

egypt limestone quarry
A worker gets covered in limestone dust as he uses a machine with rotary bladesAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
The rising sun is seen through clouds of dust as workers cut limestone into blocks at a quarry in the desertAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
A quarryman walks across limestone bricksAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
A masked worker walks past bricks at a limestone quarry in the desertAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
Workers extract limestone in a snow-white landscape at a quarry in the desertAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
Workers extract limestone at a quarry in the desertAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
Spilled oil is seen in the foreground as a worker cuts limestone blocksAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

With double-digit unemployment in a nation battered by political and economic turmoil since a 2011 uprising, the quarries attract men unable to find work elsewhere, including farmers and university graduates.

It is estimated that about 45,000 people work in more than 1,500 quarries in Egypt, carving out bricks for construction projects across the country. The limestone is also powdered for use by pharmaceutical and ceramic companies.

However, the exact number of workers in Egypt's limestone quarries is hard to assess, NGOs say, as unlicensed sites employ thousands illegally, including children under the age of 15.

egypt limestone quarry
A worker walks near a damaged rotary blade used to cut through limestoneAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
A worker wears a mask to minimise the effects of limestone dustAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
A worker in a limestone quarry wears a mask to protect himself from the dust thrown up by the cutting machineAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
A worker smiles as he poses during his shift at a limestone quarry in the desertAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
A quarry worker carries bags for powdered limestoneAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters
egypt limestone quarry
A worker drinks water under the baking desert sunAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters